We had high expectations for our first webinar, but the result exceeded even our wildest imaginations. Working with the African Innovation Law & Tech Academy, The East Africa Law Society, and LEX Africa, we were blown away by such a large and enthusiastic audience.
At the first-ever Jur webinar, we gave our audience a lively discussion on the topic of smart contracts and blockchain in the legal world. We were delighted to have so many participants from the various African law societies in attendance, each who contributed through comments and questions for our hosts to interact with. The needs of legal professionals can vary greatly from region to region, so being able to discuss the challenges that the African law community faces on a daily basis was a great opportunity, and one that everyone learned a lot from, including the Jur team. It was a terrific event from start to finish, and if you want to hear more, you can scroll to the bottom to see a recap on YouTube.
Sadly, the problem with receiving so many great questions from the community was that we weren’t able to respond to everyone!
We tried our best to stay within the 90 minute time frame but it was quickly obvious that we could have spoken for well over two hours without breaking a sweat. So instead of leaving these wonderful contributions unanswered, our team volunteered to put together a Q&A blog post to show these questions the respect they deserve. We believe it could be a great repository for curious members of our community to learn more as well.
So with introductions done and dusted, let’s turn the keyboard over to lawyer, author, and our Chief Legal Officer, Raffaele Battaglini.
Q: Isn’t it possible that there are traditional contracts that are irreplaceable?
Sure, it is. There are at least two instances where traditional contracts can not be replaced by smart contracts: (1) formal requirements provided by the law and (2) provisions which can not be automated.
Q: Are smart contracts capable of replacing all smart contracts?
It is not possible to adopt smart contract as a replacement of all traditional contracts because not all provisions can be expressed with computational logic (if then else) and generally all the contracts where the subjective component is a key component.
Q: Please elucidate on merging languages natural and coded.
The source code of smart contracts on the blockchain is expressed in text form. Within the same text interface, it is possible to use both natural language and programming language. Please check Etherscan, under the “Contract” tab, for examples such as this one. The code of the JUR Token smart contract, if you see the Code field, you will be able to see the actual code of the smart contract.
Q: So how are smart contracts enforced? How different is the enforcement of smart contracts from traditional contracts?
Smart contracts are software that self-enforce based on their performance. If they represent contractual obligations, then they can automatically enforce traditional contracts too.
Q: Can a software user view the smart contract?
Sure, smart contracts are usually open source. Please check Etherscan to view source codes of smart contracts on Ethereum.
Q: What did you say Smart Legal contract means. Didn’t get that
A Smart Legal Contract is a smart contract that embeds all the elements necessary to be considered a legal agreements (offer, acceptance etc…).
Q: Will it be necessary for lawyers to learn code and computer language themselves in order to develop and improve LegalTech?
Probably a general understanding of the principles of coding can improve the ability of a Lawyer. For sure a Lawyer who can code will be indicated for some roles for legal tech companies.
Q: How does taxation play out in smart contracts?
Smart contracts do not raise peculiarities for fiscal treatment: taxation is applied on the basis of residence of the parties and type obligations. Cryptocurrencies do however raise several issues from a tax perspective.
Q: Please confirm if a smart contract is framed using only computer programming.
Smart contracts are software so they are developed in a programming language (such as Solidity). Natural language may be added to explain the meaning of the adopted code or to include additional information
Q: How do you deal with jurisdiction in regards to smart contracts.
If the smart contract is used as a tool to automate a written traditional contract, then first it is necessary to check whether the traditional contract set forth any provisions on jurisdiction. If no written contract is available or no provision on jurisdiction is provided for, then international conventions would apply.
Q: How do you deal with smart contracts in the event the parties have decided to amend the terms of the contract in regards to the performance of the contract?
It would be necessary to deploy a new smart contract consistent with the new terms of the traditional contract. The previous smart contract should be stopped somehow. For example by including a “kill” function in the smart which cancels the smart contract or by other technicalities such as by removing all tokens from the previous smart contract.
Q: Are smart contracts being implemented for real-life issues already? And how do you think mass adoption can be achieved, if at all?
Yes, Axa adopted a smart contract as a test for the Fizzy project (insurance covering flight delays and cancellation). Smart contracts are also adopted for the sale and purchase of tokens.
Q: Are Ricardian Contracts a way to spread the smart contracts use? Or is it not at all related to the matter?
Ricardian contracts may facilitate the spread of smart legal contacts.
Q: On the issue of geographical jurisdiction vis a vis the legal regime that is to be applied in case of breach by a party to the contract where its geographic area from where it was executed isn’t clear?
This is an issue that would be solved by applying international conventions on conflict of jurisdiction
Q: So, Jur has decided to base its smart contracts on Ethereum? (Or you have the intention to use another platform?)
At Jur, we have decided to adopt the VeChain blockchain so our smart contracts run on the VeChain Thor blockchain. Currently, VeChain supports the same programming language as Ethereum so in both ecosystems, smart contracts are developed with the Solidity programming language.
Q: Mine is with regard to the Applicable Law on smart contracts. In the absence of any specific provision to that effect, what is usually the consideration regarding that?
This is an issue that would be solved by applying international conventions and laws on conflict of laws.
Q: Can smart contracts communicate with external parties?
Yes, through so-called “oracles” which are the source of information off-chain/on-chain.
Q: To promote online dispute resolution, access to online platforms (internet) would be core. Should access to the internet be considered a human right, therefore?
This is a broader matter than blockchain and smart contracts. Anyway, access to the Internet is fundamental to access ODR platforms
Q: Are there standards for smart contracts?
Yes, each ecosystem has its own set of standards. The standard is generally the result of common practices coming out of the experience and real use cases. On the Ethereum ecosystem, you can check all the available standards on this page. On VeChain which is the blockchain that Jur uses you can check all available standards here.
Let’s stop here! There were some more great questions, but we can hopefully address those later. Join Jur’s community on Telegram for more talks about legal tech.
Don’t forget to check out the new landing page of the Open Justice Platform: