Tam Ching Hin Anfield, a University of Hong Kong Laidlaw Scholar, on the influence of COVID-19 on contractual parties fulfilling their obligations, inspiration leaders and compromise.
Research title: The Law of Frustrated Contracts in the Current Pandemic
The central question is whether the law on frustration and its remedial consequences are fit for purpose in the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on media reports and legal databases, my research first looked into a selection of problems and disputes that have arisen as COVID-19 and/or pandemic control measures had made it difficult or impossible to perform contractual obligations, hence I tried to identify parties' interests and concerns from a legal perspective.
For different scenarios, I had to determine whether the circumstances meet the legal threshold for frustration and if so, the likely remedial consequences under the reforming statutes in both the UK and Hong Kong. Ultimately, my work presented a reflection on whether the likely legal solution represents a fair outcome in the context of the parties' interests and wider societal implications of other possible solutions, especially when many contracts were deemed to have allocated the risk of impossibility due to the pandemic.
Where did your passion for this research originate?
At the time when I took part in this research project in the summer of 2021, I just completed my second year of legal studies with the core subjects of contract and tort law, yet a significant portion of my student life was spent behind the laptop screen, subject to social distancing rules. Ironically, my plans for an “in-person” research project at University College London were also “frustrated” by prevailing travel restrictions and lockdowns, and thus I had no choice but to receive remote supervision. Until that moment, there were still no signs that the COVID-19 pandemic would end anytime soon, despite our belief in the conventional wisdom that “this too shall pass”.
Moreover, the sudden emergence of variants complicated policy responses for economic recovery, which in turn created even more uncertainty for commercial parties. At least, we can safely say, for now, that this coronavirus will not go away. Yet, a very high threshold is imposed in order to invoke the doctrine of frustration, and while parties were unable to fulfil their obligations, they also could not be relieved of them, which could bring severe social and economic repercussions as small businesses were forced into insolvency and more people became unemployed.
Real-life leadership lessons
Leadership is particularly testing during the pandemic because in-person communication was basically suspended, while it was easier to develop a bad mood due to pandemic fatigue and a lack of entertainment. Amid the pandemic was the time I, together with a couple of my classmates, assumed our offices in the student community. There was one instance when we strongly disagreed on the format of an activity, however, I was in the minority. While putting the question to a vote may be the most effective option, a simple majority rule sometimes eclipses the blind spots of a proposal. Hence, we eventually reached a conclusion by persuasion and deliberation as proponents of each option evaluated the relevant benefits and drawbacks.
Top leadership tips
⚡️Be like a servant and stay humble
⚡️Be honest about your thoughts but value dissenting views
⚡️Be a peacemaker
⚡️Extend your hand of friendship, or at least a helping hand when necessary
⚡️Strive to set an example
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
The Laidlaw Scholarship itself is a generous academic prize and provides an invaluable opportunity to partner with leading academics beyond our home institution, as well as offering an immersive experience abroad. Meanwhile, it provides a platform for a highly selective batch of fellow Scholars to exchange ideas and build amicable connections. Thus, it comes with a responsibility to bring impact back to society and assume more duties when needed. Moreover, we also bear the mission to encourage research in our home institutions by sharing our experience and knowledge with interested students, particularly those who have not yet explored their own potential.
Which leaders inspire you and why?
I drew great inspiration from the deeds of Pope John Paul II, who had always been a principled shepherd to his flock. He came from humble beginnings in rural Poland, where he took up working-class jobs when he was very young. While most of his family died of disease, he grew up under Nazi German occupation but never gave in to tyranny. Throughout his pontificate, John Paul II was a vocal opponent of apartheid, capital punishment and organised crime, and he had taken active steps to influence world leaders in creating a fairer world. For many in Eastern Europe and South America, the Great Pope inspired social and political change in his support for human rights advocacy that catalysed the downfall of military juntas and communist dictatorships. He had also always kept the youth and the underprivileged in his mind as he strongly supported charitable works.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
I envision a future with hope, justice and peace. This is a future where children can enjoy their childhood, students can develop their interests, neighbours live in harmony with diversity, and without any wars or military conflicts. Also, I dearly hope that society could care for the poor, the homeless, and the disabled, allowing them to live a life of dignity, instead of prioritising maximising commercial profits.
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: An impromptu trip to Moldova during my exchange.
You can find Anfield on LinkedIn. If you are interested in learning more about Anfield's work on the effects of COVID-19 on the contractual obligations of companies, check out his research proposal.
Anfield is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Scholar at the University of Hong Kong. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.
You can consent to the use of such technologies by closing this notice.
Customise your preferences for any tracking technology
The following allows you to customize your consent preferences for any tracking technology used
to help us achieve the features and activities described below. To learn more about how these trackers help us