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July 2011

[Updated 3 August 2011]

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously remarked in Northern Securities Co v United States 193 US 197 (1904) that:

“Great cases like hard cases make bad law. For great cases are called great, not by reason of their importance... but because of some accident of immediate overwhelming interest which appeals to the feelings and distorts the judgment”.

We might take this reasoning a step further: big cases make or entrench bad policy. A contemporary example is the request for arbitration (in Singapore) initiated on 27 June by tobacco giant Philip Morris Asia (PM) against Australia, pursuant to the 1993 “Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Hong Kong for the Promotion and Protection of Investments”. PM seems to be alleging that proposed legislation mandating plain packaging of cigarettes amounts to “expropriation” of its trademarks (Art 6) and possibly a violation of “fair and equitable treatment” obligations (Art 2(2)).

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