Features - Forwarderlaw: A Comprehensive Resource for Legal Information on International Transport and Logistic

Peter Jones practices law with the Toronto, Canada firm of Paterson, MacDougall, (PMLaw) which specializes in transportation and insurance law. Mr. Jones represents forwarders and their insurers. His legal practice involves all facets of transport law, including advice on law and policy issues in forwarding, cargo claims and charter party disputes, etc. He is the author of the FIATA Legal Handbook, Essentials of EDI, and EDI, the New Transport Revolution. Mr. Jones is also currently the Chairman of the Advisory Body Legal Matters of the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) of Zurich. He advises clients on issues arising in electronic commerce, and the use of the Internet for business transactions.


Introduction

I have written this summary for LLRX.com with some trepidation, as I suspect that the well informed contributors to and readers of LLRX know much more about the presentation of information on the Web than I am ever likely to. I persuaded myself that I should do so in the expectation that most readers will be new to the subject matter of Forwarderlaw.

For the last two plus years I, along with six legal colleagues and numerous contributors from around the world, have promoted and maintained Forwarderlaw, a comprehensive resource for legal information on freight forwarding. To my knowledge it is the only site directed at this important but not well-recognized area of international transport and logistics.

The Architects of Transport

First, what is freight forwarding? Forwarders describe themselves as the "architects of transport". Like architects, forwarders are designers rather than doers: they arrange the transport of goods, but they do not actually carry the goods themselves. They engage the services of the actual carriers, the airlines, truckers, railroads and ocean carriers who operate the means of conveyance. Forwarders also provide or arrange for the many ancillary services that are essential to the international movement of goods, such as Customs clearance, insurance and documentation.

Forwarders have come into prominence in the latter half of the twentieth century, as the influence of globalization impacted international carriers. Much more is now required than the safe movement of goods, important as that is. As the delivery of consumer goods became time-critical, so accurate and timely movement of information became essential. To meet this need, forwarders quickly adopted information technology to the management of information flows that international transportation requires.

The remarkable things about the industry are that it is generally not subject to regulation, its activities have never been brought within the reach of an international convention. In most countries, private contract is the legal foundation for the performance of forwarding services. Generally forwarding contracts use clauses that have been adopted by a national forwarding association.

This means that the most important body of law is contract, and the standard clauses become a code for the industry and its customers. These clauses are available in printed form, but not readily available on the Web – not at least until Forwarderlaw.

Forwarderlaw

The main information resource in Forwarderlaw is the Legal Index. The Legal Index incorporates clauses used in most common law countries that have adopted standard trading conditions, as well as the FIATA Model Rules. (FIATA is the international association that represents the industry.) You can access these clauses in three ways: an alphabetical index - http://www.forwarderlaw.com/index/forindex.htm; an index by categories - http://www.forwarderlaw.com/index/indexcat.htm; and a search facility - http://www.forwarderlaw.com/queryff.htm.

The two indexes are directly linked to pages where you can retrieve the text of the actual clauses. Each linked page comes with a practical legal explanation of the function of the clause. These explanations are also linked to other relevant clauses that deal with related issues.

As other national forwarding associations revise their conditions, Forwarderlaw will index and comment on these conditions. Belgium is now in the process of doing so.

A second resource on Forwarderlaw is the Archive, which contains Commentary on transport law subjects. In this Archive you will find discussion of the most important issues that have impacted the forwarding industry today, authored by experts on the subject, including the national editors of Forwarderlaw. The archive is structured according to subject matter, linked to the actual commentaries.

A third resource is a collection of cases on the forwarding industry throughout the world. This resource will be expanded as more cases are submitted and made the subject of commentary.

Librarians/lawyers who are looking for precedents for clients should visit the Riskmanager section of the site, where contract templates can be purchased.

A brief word on International Conventions: although forwarders are not carriers they (and their lawyers) have to know the salient provisions of Conventions that govern all modes of transport. The most popular conventions are part of Forwarderlaw. For more complete information, I rely on two useful sources.

Juris International and Lex Mercatoria

Firstly, Juris International, which offers a series of databases on subjects as diverse as International Legal Instruments, and Contracts Models and Drafting. The collection of International Legal Instruments is valuable as it permits a surfer to get very specific information regarding the status of International Conventions within every country. This site also offers the full text, often with descriptive summary, of various conventions, model laws, as well as standards and customs of international trade. The pages of information on these instruments include, where appropriate, the list of ratifications and adhesions per country. Juris International also permits multilingual searching in English, Spanish, and French.

To quote from the site:

Juris International aims to facilitate and reduce the work involved in research for business lawyers, advisers and in-house counsel, and state organizations in developing and transition economies, by providing access to texts that have often been difficult to obtain. Its objective is to gather a large quantity of basic information at one site (favoring complete legal texts), without the need to send for the information, and consequently without excessive communication costs for users who do not benefit from an efficient and cheap telecommunications network.

The Juris International site includes a search form that permits the entry of pertinent information such as country, subject, and search term. If you chose the country option, you will be able to access a complete list of all International Instruments (Conventions) that have been ratified by that country. One of the limitations of the site is that it does not include International Conventions/Protocols that do not fall under the jurisdiction of UNCTAD, such as the Hague and Hague Visby Rules.

Like many lawyers, I rely heavily on having access via the Web to information that is essential to the advice I give. I particularly like the internal search form that is organized into fields with drop-down lists of subjects. I must acknowledge the two organizations responsible for the site organization, the University of Montreal and the Juripole of Lorraine - University of Nancy.

A second site, Lex Mercatoria, is dedicated to providing information on international commercial law with subsidiary interests in commerce and (mostly open standard) Net technologies that may be of interest to law academics and professionals worldwide. As such, Lex Mercatoria provides information and links related to international commerce and trade law. The Lex Mercatoria presents the full texts and where relevant country implementation details of several of the most important conventions and other documents used in international trade and commerce. These materials are presented by subject (e.g. free trade, sale of goods, transport, insurance, payment), chronologically, and has information pages on trade related organisations. Lex Mercatoria also maintains extensive links to other sites related by the subject international commerce.

There are other sites that I access for commentary and useful case summaries. Chris Giaschi, a Vancouver lawyer, maintains www.Admiraltylaw.com, which has pages devoted to the works of Professor William Tetley of McGill University, one of the most renowned commentators on International Transport issues. The site has a good collection of searchable summaries of Canadian cases.

When I can’t find what I am looking for on these references, or the commercial search engines, I use others, of which Hieros Gamos deserves mention.