Dr Julian A Sempill

  • Mr Julian Sempill

    Senior Lecturer

+61 3 9035 5368 | jsempill@unimelb.edu.au | Room 0757


Dr Julian Sempill is a Senior Lecturer at Melbourne Law School. DPhil (University of Oxford), LLB (Hons), BA (University of Melbourne). Solicitor (Supreme Court of England & Wales). Barrister & Solicitor (Supreme Court of Victoria).

Dr Sempill’s research agenda addresses constitutional and administrative law, corporations law, labour law, legal ethics, legal theory, and the history of legal thought. Its unifying preoccupation is the question how law should limit social power for the sake of rights and dignity.

Currently, Dr Sempill is completing a book which explores aspects of that question. Its title is Power & the Law: The Limited Government Tradition & its Rivals, and it will be published by Cambridge University Press (United Kingdom).

Power & the Law will refine and extend the inquiry Dr Sempill commenced in a 30,000 word article published in the United States in 2016: “Ruler’s Sword, Citizen’s Shield: The Rule of Law & the Constitution of Power” 31 Journal of Law & Politics 333 (2016) (University of Virginia).

In that article, Dr Sempill offers a fresh perspective on the long-standing rivalry between so-called “substantive” and “formal” conceptions of the Rule of Law. He argues that the Rule of Law debate seems to have reached a stalemate or, at least, to be offering diminishing returns. He proposes a possible way out of the impasse, suggesting that the most promising route is via a better understanding of the historical, moral, and political significance of the major Rule of Law visions and the rivalry between them. He outlines a method conducive to understanding such matters, and he puts that method in the service of the ends just described.

Dr Sempill’s work also explores tensions within the liberal Rule of Law project. See, for example, “The Lions & the Greatest Part: John Locke & the Origins of an Axiom”, The Hague Journal on the Rule of Law (forthcoming, 2017). The article’s abstract is as follows:

On the limited government conception of the Rule of Law, it is axiomatic that the state may only act for the public good, according to law, and not arbitrarily, on pain of forfeiting its authority. That axiom is a great legacy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ anti-absolutist revolutions. The same period yielded another axiom, seldom noticed though nonetheless momentous. It is the belief, usually tacit, that the Rule of Law should not address the potentially arbitrary power of employers. This Article explores the origins of that axiom in the work of John Locke, one of the fountainheads of the limited government tradition. According to the way of seeing power that Locke propagated, there seems to be no reason to wonder whether employers might enjoy arbitrary power. In turn, there seems to be no point in asking whether the legitimacy of the employment relationship should depend upon its being constituted on the basis of limited government constraints. However, as I demonstrate, such impressions are at odds with key moral and empirical features of Locke’s own analysis. Those tensions represent a challenge not only for Locke’s analysis, but also for the liberal Rule of Law project that Locke helped to found. It is a challenge that the tradition is yet to address.

In June 2016, Dr Sempill presented a public lecture on the relationship between law and dignity as part of the Julius Stone Institute’s Seminar Series at the University of Sydney.

Also in June 2016, he discussed his own and Dr Nick Chessman’s work on the Rule of Law as part of a roundtable with Professor Martin Krygier and Dr Cheesman at the University of New South Wales School of Law.

In July 2016, Dr Sempill presented two papers at the Atelier de Theorie Critique, Paris (Villanova University, Department of Philosophy/Universite Paris Descartes/Institut Mines-Telecom). He also presented a paper at the Atelier in 2014.

In 2014, he was invited by the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, to give two public lectures as part of Thomas Hirschhorn's exhibition, Flamme Eternelle.

Dr Sempill has taught at Melbourne Law School since 2009.

His teaching reflects his research interests as well as his experience as a lawyer in Tokyo and Paris. He has taught Corporations Law, Trusts, Legal Ethics, Legal Method & Reasoning, Legal Theory, as well as an elective subject, The Rule of Law in Theory & Practice.


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