"Undue Influence and Unconscionability in Comparative Common Law: Delivering Contextualized Justice for Minority Sureties"Puja Kapai
Journal of Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems
Spring 2019, Vol. 28, Issue 2, pp 361-448
Abstract: Legal transplantation through colonization, mass migration, and—more recently—globalization has long been under the microscope of scholars, anthropologists, and lawyers, among others, who have sought to better understand the workings of the law in contexts foreign to its place of origin. This quest for understanding the relevance and operationalization of law in different contexts is part of the broader discourse of legal pluralism, which encompasses the study of the role of formal and informal normative values and institutions and the interaction between them as alternative, overlapping, or conflicting systems of relational ordering in diverse socio-political contexts. The law’s effectiveness as a tool for responsive justice is brought into sharp focus due to implicit biases which result from the law’s grounding in a dominant cultural framework which leaves minorities outside its legal lens. When the legal order delivers differential justice by overlooking or distorting the lived realities of those who fall outside law’s original frame of reference, it befits a critical inquiry about the law’s commitment to equality and non-discrimination in a plural legal order. The increasing convergence of legal systems cannot, on its own, be taken as determinative of an on-the-ground shift in values among all populations, communities, and peoples. Without an accompanying shift at the societal level, the law risks marginalizing and excluding minorities from an accessible framework for justice. Indeed, equality scholars have long argued that justice requires more than equal treatment and warrants a review of the substantive law itself as much as issues of procedural propriety in its application in demonstrating law’s fairness in terms of outcomes under the law. Despite the open-ended presentation of the common law as an apparatus with sufficient flexibility to achieve substantively just outcomes (and prevent miscarriages of justice) through the use of equitable principles where necessary, limitations inherent in the law’s institutional structure, how its content is populated, its reliance on agents for its dispensation, and its value-laden interpretive and analytical methodologies carve out an underclass of claimants for whom substantive equal justice remains unachievable. Law’s capacity to fulfill its function to deliver meaningful justice rests on its capacity to recognize the full range of complex legal subjects that may present themselves before it and to assess, understand, and interpret their claims and actions meaningfully by acknowledging the impact of the varied contexts within which human activity occurs. This paper critiques law’s purported neutrality in the field of contract law. It uses the doctrine of undue influence as a vehicle for investigating and understanding the implications of law’s entrenchment in a particular cultural context. Reviewing courts’ analyses of the factors grounding a successful claim of undue influence in guarantee contracts involving individuals of minority background, this paper examines the law’s capacity to identify and incorporate broader contextual factors to protect minority claimants against unfairly procured contractual liabilities in a range of jurisdictions. The paper’s critique of the courts’ analyses and framing of cultural factors in relation to the doctrine presents the imperative for a critical re-examination of modern jurisprudence developing judicial doctrine and its capacity for dispensing justice for subjects situated within plural normative orders. In doing so, the Article breaks ground with traditional rule of law analyses which ground conversations about law’s impartiality on law’s principled commitment to equality or, alternatively, seek an essentialized brand of justice. Instead, it avoid essentialism while placing burdens for due diligence where they are likely to be met. Building on this model, the Article offers arguments for incorporating considerations informed by a variety of social and human conditions in efforts to deliver substantive justice for all people regardless of their race, color, religion, or other background. This proposal bears notable implications for devising bespoke analytical tools which may well be specific to a legal field to ensure that legal understandings are rooted in the lived realities of those seeking law’s justice. Such an approach has the potential for development and application in a range of other areas of law such as violence against women and children’s rights. Click here to read the full text.