The modern English doctrine of unconscionability

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This paper argues that the uncertainty that once plagued the English doctrine of unconscionability has given way to certainty and predictability, as the criteria for relief formulated in Alec Lobb Garages Ltd v Total Oil (Great Britain) Ltd has prevailed over the competing criteria identified in Fry v Lane as restated in Cresswell v Potter. It further argues that the Alec Lobb test has had the effect of restricting the protective reach of the modern English doctrine of unconscionability to such an extent that it is unable to provide effective protection to weaker parties. Whilst weaker parties now enjoy significant protection under various statutory regimes, it is argued that unconscionability still serves an important function and it should be developed to enable it to discharge that office more effectively. The paper suggests possible directions in the future development of the English doctrine. In doing so, it argues that, unlike the approach emerging in some jurisdictions, English law should retain unfairness in the terms of the transaction as a requirement for relief.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-239
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Contract Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Contract law
  • unconscionability
  • unfair contracts
  • consumer protection
  • constructive notice
  • consumer rights
  • unfair terms
  • unconscionable bargains
  • serious disadvantage
  • special disability
  • trainsactional imbalance
  • substantive unfairness


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