Legal Research

About Legal Research

Students in their final year undertake the capstone subject Legal Research (LAWS50039). This subject involves studying one of the available legal research topics, which differ each year. As each topic has a quota, students must apply, and be approved, to enter a topic.

Prerequisites

Only students who have satisfied the subject prerequisites (as per the subject handbook entry) or have an approved prerequisite waiver (which is specific to your selected topic) can apply for a Legal Research topic.

Students applying for Legal Research in 2023 do not need to submit a prerequisite waiver form, as the ASO will assess the need for prerequisites at the time of selection for the nominated topic.

Some topics may have additional prerequisites or recommended prior knowledge within the topic description.

2023 Legal Research topics

Each topic is limited to 17 students unless specified otherwise.

Semester 1 Topics

Please note, additional topics will be made available once finalised.

  • A rose by any other name: Are human rights and fundamental freedoms better protected by laws other than human rights charters?
    (Nicholas Petrie)

    Australia remains one of the only democratic countries to lack a constitutional or statutory charter of rights at the national level. At the State and Territory levels, only Victoria, Queensland and ACT have human rights charters, but courts are hamstrung in the relief they can provide under these charters in various ways. Despite the apparent lacuna of rights protection, the Australian legal framework is not impervious to personal rights infringements. There are various mechanisms to protect rights and lawyers are increasingly seeking to use novel legal claims for this reason. The question for lawyers and academics is: do these alternative and often novel pathways provide a better way forward in terms of rights protection? In this topic, students may want to interrogate questions such as:

    • Is tort law a better way than human rights law to protect the right to life to the extent it is threatened by climate change?
    • Is the common law, which various commentators have suggested operates as a form of ‘common law bill of rights’ in Australia, fertile ground to further strengthen rights protection in Australia?
  • Artificial Technology, Law and Society
    (Professor Jane Kaye)

    The digital economy increasingly relies on the application of new types of big data analytics, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide more targeted and sophisticated services and products. The scale and the application of these approaches to most sectors in society are having a huge impact on all aspects of our everyday lives. They have been used to track the trajectory of the COVID -19 virus to improve vaccine delivery; to identify seasonal demands in food production to improve supply chains; to enable predictions about legal outcomes; to better target online advertising and to enable consumers to engage with chatbots. There are also cases where the use of this technology has been detrimental, such as the ‘Robodebt’ scandal where an automated debt recovery programme initiated by the Federal government unlawfully claimed almost $2 billion in payments from welfare benefit recipients.

    Australia’s law and regulatory systems are currently under review to identify if they are fit for purpose, through reports from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (2019), the Australian Human Rights Commission ‘Human Rights and Technology Final Report’ (2021), and the Federal Government’s Digital Technology Taskforce’s inquiry into automated decision-making and AI regulation launched in March 2022. In addition, there are a number of legislative changes to existing law and new case law is being developed by the courts. Careful analysis is required to understand how existing and new laws may shape the adoption and implementation of these analytical tools, particularly in the areas relating to privacy and data protection, consumer law, corporate law, finance, competition and anti-discrimination law.

    In this topic we will explore the complexity of legal issues associated with the use of AI which we will use as an umbrella term for the various big data analytics, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies. This topic will enable you to develop a deeper understanding of the law and the issues touched upon in other subjects in your degree. You will develop your ability to undertake independent legal research by learning to identify research questions, presenting your research topic and writing up your research findings.

  • Australian Corporate and Consumer Finance Law: Selected Aspects and Recent Developments
    (Associate Professor Paul Ali)

    Australian companies and consumers routinely make use of credit to finance their business activities and purchases of household items respectively. These credit arrangements can take a wide variety of legal forms ranging from tiny so-called "payday loans" to huge multi-lender loans. This topic will provide an opportunity for students to engage with selected aspects of contemporary finance transactions and recent legal developments relating to corporate and consumer finance. Students will be able to undertake a substantial research paper on topics such as the Personal Property Securities Act 2009 (Cth), potentially harmful consumer credit products, and securitisation.

  • Corporate Governance and Directors’ Duties
    (Professor Rosemary Langford)

    Important: Corporations Law (LAWS50035) is a mandatory prerequisite for this topic.

    Corporate Governance and Directors’ Duties builds on knowledge acquired in Corporations Law (LAWS50035) in focusing on the concept of corporate governance and, in particular, in probing aspects of core directors’ duties in further detail. Topics include discussion of the concept of corporate governance and its constituent elements, the role of regulators and of corporate governance codes, the rise of shareholder activism and the application of core directors’ duties in particularly topical contexts, as well as duties applying in the context of purpose-based companies (such as charitable and other not-for-profit companies and social enterprises).

  • Digital Technologies and Personal Data
    (Professor Jane Kaye)

    Many of the transactions and activities of our daily lives are now carried out online, from banking, through to gaming and sharing media posts with friends. The digital economy increasingly relies on the large-scale collection and aggregation of personal information and the application of new types of big data analytics, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to tailor our experience and encourage our spending. The clicks of our mouse and our online activity provide information that may give insights to our state of mind and personal preferences in a way that has not been possible before. Data has become a valuable commodity which is the foundation of many businesses and has the potential to provide significant social benefits. At the same time, our media is littered with stories of the hacking of online platforms, disinformation and data breaches. A recent example was the Optus data breach where 10 million people’s personal data was downloaded in September 2022 through a cyberbreach. At the same time, new digital technologies are being used to collect new forms of personal data in our everyday lives, such as the use of facial recognition technology in Bunnings and K-Mart stores to collect biometric data.

    The scope of what can be considered personal data and the digital technologies that are being used to collect data by governments and private companies are expanding and becoming more sophisticated. Recently, we have seen how the COVID response has necessitated the population-wide collection of data by governments, through health apps on platforms provided by Google and Apple. These events in combination raises a number of challenges for our legal and regulatory system, as it tries to protect individual digital privacy but also reap the benefits of the digital revolution. Broader societal issues about public trust, justice, discrimination and inclusion, and the fairness of exploitation of personal data by third parties are also brought into sharp relief. The use of personal data demonstrates how the information asymmetries between state, companies and citizens are in constant tension.

    In this topic we will explore current issues in the news to understand the complexity of issues associated with digital technologies and the use of personal data. This topic will enable you to develop a deeper understanding of the law and draw upon your knowledge gained in other subjects. You will develop your ability to undertake independent legal research by learning to identify research questions, presenting your research topic and writing up your research findings.

  • Empirical legal research
    (Associate Professor Alysia Blackham)

    Empirical legal research involves the use of direct methods to study how law operates in practice. Empirical legal research offers new and challenging insights into law in the real world and how law operates in practice, helping us to understand the practical effects of legal change, challenge assumptions about law and its effectiveness, inform evidence-based policy-making, and provide new insights into legal problems. However, empirical research also faces particular theoretical and practical challenges in its formulation and execution.

    This Legal Research topic will introduce students to empirical legal scholarship. Seminars will consider 1) the rationale and benefits of undertaking empirical legal research; 2) methods of empirical legal research; and 3) challenges or limitations of this type of scholarship. The topic will provide the opportunity for students to engage in a critical appraisal of empirical legal research being conducted in an area and/or jurisdiction of their choice, to reflect on methodological limitations or gaps, or areas of research need. Students will be encouraged to reflect on opportunities and potential topics for future research.

  • Feminist Jurisprudence
    (Professor Ann Genovese)

    Since the 1980s feminist scholars, across jurisdictions, have challenged the content and operation of laws that deny all people equality of status and protection. Importantly, they also disrupted the claim that equality before the law was an unequivocal certainty, and through their work instantiated a challenge to legal knowledge itself. In Feminist Jurisprudence, we will investigate and trace some of these diverse resources and sources of feminist thought.

    The seminar component of the topic will take the form of a reading group. We will engage in close contextual interpretation and conversation about ground-breaking texts, to explore what methods the authors initiated for critique and challenge to legal thought and action. The objective is to reinvigorate research around contemporary legal questions and problems that draw from these resources. Indicative texts for the reading group in 2022  are: Carol Smart Feminism and the Power of Law (1989); Kimberlé Crenshaw ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex’ (1989); Margaret Thornton The Liberal Promise: Anti-Discrimination Legislation in Australia (1990); Judith Butler Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of identity(1990); Moira Gatens Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power, and Corporeality (1996); Janet Halley Split Decisions How and Why to Take a Break From Feminism (2006); Aileen Moreton-Robinson ‘Towards an Australian Indigenous Women’s Standpoint Theory: A Methodological Tool’ (2014). For their projects, students will be invited to think with one of the discussed texts to interrogate a current jurisprudential or legal problem of their choice (for example, in the areas of reproductive rights; sexual harassment and #MeToo; family law and family violence; discrimination law; employment law; status of persons before the law; although students are encouraged to apply the techniques discussed in the seminar to any area of law).

  • Law, Rights and Identity in Southeast Asia
    (Professor Tim Lindsey AO)

    Southeast Asia is place of extraordinary ethnic, religious and political diversity and has undergone dramatic change over the last thirty years. As champions of conservative authoritarianism and reformist liberal democratic reform compete for political power they exploit this diversity, with issues of law, human rights and identity constantly at the heart of public debate. This topic explores major constitutional and legal controversies in Southeast Asia, focusing on their social, political and cultural contexts and how human rights are articulated in this complex region, one that will be of crucial economic and strategic importance for Australia in the coming decades.

    Students in this topic can work on any one or more of the states of Southeast Asia, including, for example, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Timor Leste, the Philippines, etc. There is a very wide range of issues related to law and rights in the region students can chose to investigate, including, for example, the death penalty, the application of shari’a, racial laws, self-determination, women’s rights, access to justice, disability, treatment of LGBTQI people, the criminal process, constitutional rights, judicial interpretation of rights, freedom of expression and dissent, the right of association, NGOs and trade unions, and Internet rights, to name just a few. There is also flexibility about the type of research project that may be undertaken, including historical, socio-legal, theoretical or doctrinal approaches, among other.

    Prior knowledge of Southeast Asia not necessary.

  • Law Reform
    (Dr Olivia Barr)

    If you could change one law, what would it be? Imagine, genuinely imagine, that for one day you were given the powers of Parliament to amend laws. What would be the first thing you did? What problem would you want to solve? Where do you see the greatest injustice? What area of law gets under your skin and you just need to fix it? Is there something missing from the current legislative landscape? Is something no longer helpful, even harmful, that needs radical updating?

    Keeping in mind all the state and federal legislation currently on the books in Australia, which piece of legislation would you change? More specifically, which section or sections would you change, and why? Would your changes remove, alter or create something entirely new? There are so many answers to these questions, but some examples include the authorised destruction of cultural heritage like Juukan Gorge, indefinite immigration detention, Ministerial approvals for developments impacting the environment, tax subsidies for real estate investments, the age of criminal responsibility, and universal basic income.

    Most of the time, as lawyers, we focus on problems, but in this legal research topic we take the opportunity to create solutions. Law reform involves different actors, including ministers responsible for a bill, lawyers and policy officers in government departments providing advice, and parliamentary counsel who are the expert legal drafters. In this topic you will learn about how lawyers participate in law reform, and practice the specialist skills involved in drafting a bill that changes the law.  The purpose of this topic is to give you a chance to embark on a law reform project entirely of your own choice. The only requirement is you engage with a single piece of state or federal legislation. You will need to choose one piece of legislation, identify a legal problem, provide context for that problem, including why it is a problem, propose a solution, and draft an amendment bill implementing your solution. To frame this research topic, in the first seminar we will learn about law reform by focusing on the ‘back of house’ practices of lawyers effectuating change, including how to draft amendment bills. In the second seminar, we will explore some examples and discuss how to go about choosing your topic, and different research methods that may help you approach your chosen topic.

  • The Idea of Equity
    (Professor Matthew Harding, The Hon Justice Joseph Santamaria KC and The Hon Justice Stephen Kos KC)

    Equity plays a distinctive role in the common law. The law expresses norms that focus on external conduct and are absolute in their application.  The only exceptions are those that are themselves provided for at law.  The principles of equity, which began to develop in Chancery in the late 15th century, mitigate the absolute impact of the law.  In establishing those principles, the Chancellors explored the concept of conscience, something internal.  Equity restrained the pursuit of legal remedies where the insistence upon legal rights was considered to be ‘against conscience’.  It also closely regulated certain essential relationships in which one party to the relationship was peculiarly vulnerable to exploitation by the other.  Although equitable principles have become established, their application depends upon a finding that a party has behaved unconscionably.  More recently, the law has itself begun to adopt equitable principles as Parliament has expressed legal norms in terms previously deployed solely in equity, for example where it has proscribed conduct said to be ‘unconscionable’.

    The research topic offers participants the opportunity to reflect upon equity and its relationship to the law.  That reflection may generate research papers that explore the origins and development of equity, its peculiar features, how and why it has come to regulate certain relationships, the rationale behind its maxims, the meaning of its touchstone ‘against conscience’ and the relatively modern development in which equitable principles are used in statute.

  • The Politics of the Rule of Law: from Plato to the Present
    (Dr Julian Sempill)

    Since around the middle of the twentieth century, some academics, and some of their current and former students, have come to think of ‘the rule of law’ as a list of criteria that laws or legal systems should satisfy. For example: are the laws public and prospective? Are they sufficiently general and clear? The widespread support for this way of thinking about ‘the rule of law’ sometimes leaves students with the impression that there is no other way to think about it.

    This topic aims to undo that false impression by considering alternative ideas about the rule of law. Which ideas about ‘the rule of law’ are best? There is no sensible answer to that question that is not shaped by where and when it is answered, and, perhaps, by whom. Nor is there any sensible answer that is not informed by morality and politics. The rule of law is always a political doctrine and, also, in large part, traditional and rhetorical. As the rule of law is political, traditional, and rhetorical, our efforts to understand it should be contextualizing and critical. Students should take this topic if they are interested in the history and politics of ‘the rule of law’.

  • The Process of Proof: Truth, Error and Values
    (Professor Andrew Roberts)

    The aim of this legal research topic is to provide you with an opportunity to think in more depth about the inquiry with which the criminal trial is concerned. Put simply, we might say that its aim is to discover the truth of the events that led to the defendant being tried. But juries are frequently presented with competing claims as to what occurred, neither of which might represent the truth of the matter. An attempt to discover the truth of past events is no easy task. The evidence presented to fact-finders is likely to suffer from various deficiencies. Fact-finding will depend on inferential reasoning, that in turn relies on what is referred to as common knowledge and experience. But the knowledge, possessed by fact-finders, and the extent of their experiences, may well provide an inadequate basis for reliable fact-finding. The way in which they approach their task is likely to be influenced - often unconsciously - by their commitment to certain moral and political values. Moreover, it is now well-established the emotions that fact-finders experience when presented with evidence will affect they reason.

    The fact-finding process that we expect juries to undertake in criminal trials is a complex one. Given this it should be no surprise that there is no consensus as to what should we take the aims of the law of evidence to be. Some suggest that the primary function of the rules of evidence should be to ensure accurate outcomes; that is to say, to ensure - as far as is possible - that the factually guilty are convicted, and the factually innocent acquitted. Others take the view that the consequences of wrongful conviction are so serious that the overriding objective of the law of evidence ought to be avoiding this kind or error. Alongside these epistemic issues, are questions about the non-epistemic values that the criminal trial and the law of evidence ought embody, and the extent to which pursuit of the truth, and conviction of the factually guilty, ought to be prioritised ought to be prioritised over some of these values.

    In this legal research topic, you will be expected to engage in critical thinking about the law of evidence. This might be about its fundamental aims, or how competing objectives ought to be prioritised. You might use these ideas, or the difficulties associated with fact-finding process undertaken in the criminal trial as a starting point for critical evaluation of a particular evidential rule or issue and associated jurisprudence.

  • Treason, Sedition, Heresy and Dissent: Political Trials in History
    (Associate Professor Amanda Whiting)

    Students will research and write a paper on the continuing significance of an historically important prosecution and trial for ‘political crimes’ such as treason, sedition, rebellion, agitation, heresy, blasphemy and other forms of dissent. After studying examples of this genre of legal history writing and a selection of primary source materials, students will be assisted to select their own topic.

    Students already acquainted with historical research methods will be able to refine their skills. There is, however, no expectation of prior historical training, and students who are new to the study of history will be given guidance to develop an appropriate research methodology to fit their chosen topic. The research paper should include at least two of the following three aspects (unless permission for a variation has been granted): (i) analysis of trial records and contemporaneous documentation such as reports in the mass media, pamphlets and other polemical materials; (ii) examples of the way the trial has been mythologised and reinterpreted, for example through subsequent treatment in elite or popular culture or within politico-legal discourse; (iii) evaluation of changing ‘serious’ or academic analysis by historians and legal scholars and how and why scholarly interpretations have changed over time.

    A small selection of some of the many excellent research papers written by JD students who have previously taken this topic can be found in Legal History Matters: From Magna Carta to the Clinton Impeachment, edited by Amanda Whiting and Ann O’Connell (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2020) – e-book held in university Library.

Semester 2 Topics

Please note, additional topics will be made available once finalised.

  • Age(ing) and the law
    (Associate Professor Alysia Blackham)

    Countries across the OECD are facing a period of rapid demographic change. While longer, healthier lives represent a triumph of modern medicine, they also pose fundamental challenges to existing legal and policy structures, including those relating to work, pensions, health care and legal rights. This Legal Research topic considers both how law is responding to demographic ageing; and ways in which ageing challenges or might prompt reform to existing legal structures. It considers age(ing) and the law across the life course, examining how law affects older and younger demographic groups.

    Introductory seminars will provide a framework for thinking about age and the law, and possible legal and policy responses to demographic change. Seminars will consider thematic topics such as 1) age discrimination at work, and the mandatory retirement of judges; 2) pensions, social security and intergenerational solidarity; and 3) elder care and elder abuse. The topic will provide the opportunity for students to engage in a critical appraisal of legal doctrine and/or the law in action in an area of their choice.

  • Comparative Constitutional Law
    (Associate Professor Scott Stephenson)

    In this topic of Legal Research, students will be required to research and write a paper on an issue of comparative constitutional law. The field of comparative constitutional law seeks to improve our understanding of constitutions by studying them through a comparative lens. Comparison can be used to shed light on an issue of domestic constitutional law (e.g. Should Australia adopt a bill of rights in light of the experience with a bill of rights in Canada and the United States? Should the United Kingdom follow the rest of the world and adopt a written/codified constitution?). It can also be used to shed light on a general issue of constitutional law that arises in multiple countries (e.g. What role has the judiciary played in the legalisation of same-sex marriage in common law countries? Which federal system most appropriately managed the need for both local and national responses to COVID-19?).

    In the seminars, we will consider three key questions. First, what is comparative constitutional law and why do we do it? This question will evaluate some of the advantages of comparison as well as its inescapability. Second, how do we do comparative constitutional law? This question will cover some of the disadvantages of comparison — how it can go wrong by being done poorly — and some of the debates about the appropriate way of doing it. Third, what does an effective comparative constitutional law paper look like? This question will consider how to pick a topic, how to select a set of comparators and how to structure a paper.

  • Constitutions and the Law in Southeast Asia
    (Professor Tim Lindsey AO)

    Southeast Asia is a region of extraordinary diversity, and this is reflected in the very different constitutions of the states that make it up. They range from socialist to liberal democratic to authoritarian. Some are republics, others are ruled by princes and there is even an absolute monarchy. Some constitutions are the result of war and revolution, others are legacy of former colonial rulers, still others have been reinvented multiple times. Some constitutions establish complex federal systems or quasi-federations; other are unitary. Some include extensive charters of rights, while others offer only vestigial protection. Some privilege a particular religion or race, others make no mention of them.

    This topic offers students the chance to investigate the constitutions and public law of the states in Australia’s immediate ‘neighbourhood’, and their implications for the people who live there.  Research can be done comparatively, investigating the constitutional systems of a number of Southeast Asia states, or it can focus on a single state.  (Student may also seek permission to work on the constitution of an Asian state outside Southeast Asia, if a case be made for doing so).

    Students are welcome to explore any aspect of constitutions of the region, and can select from a wide range of issues, including (but not limited to), human rights, freedom of expression, indigenous rights, constraints on state power, state institutions, elections and regime change, constitution-making, constitutional amendment, citizenship, the status of non-citizens, race and identity, resources and the environment, climate change, etc. No prior knowledge of the region is required, and the topic coordinator will ensure appropriate resources are available before any research topic is approved.

  • Creators’ Rights
    (Professor Rebecca Giblin)

    It has always been difficult to make a living from creative labour, but for many creators it’s now harder than ever before. There is no one single cause. Rising education and housing costs play a big role, and so does the excessive power of the main players in culture markets, including Amazon, YouTube, and Netflix, who flex their muscle to extract a disproportionate share of value. Another factor is outdated copyright and contract arrangements, which, in Australia, allow investors (like publishers and record labels) to extract creators’ rights for the entire term of copyright without any obligation to invest in them, exploit them, or pay royalties ongoing. These wasteful arrangements make it harder for creators to make ends meet whilst simultaneously causing culture to be lost. Elsewhere, many countries have statutory laws limiting what creators can be obliged to give away, or which provide for their reversion after a certain period of time or when they’re no longer being used. But most of them were developed before the digital era, and they fail to take advantage of new possibilities around distribution and payment. How can we do better?

    This topic will incorporate two seminars delving into these problems, and a third seminar workshopping topics and working towards improving understanding of what makes a good legal research essay. The substantive seminars will introduce the laws that govern creators’ rights in Australia, and flagging alternative approaches elsewhere. Students will be asked to think critically about the legal levers that could be pulled to improve the lot of Australian creators, and each develop a rigorous and detailed proposal for reform. They may choose to zero in on distinct subtypes of creator (book authors, recording artists, composers, photographers etc) or take a more universal approach. While the seminars will focus primarily on copyright and contract law structures, students might also consider developing reform proposals around other areas of law, such as tax or competition, or to analyse the interplay between multiple different areas. While students will be asked to propose reform recommendations for Australian law, they will be expected to draw inspiration from, critique or compare the law of international jurisdictions. Students may be invited to publish their essays as part of an ongoing Australian Research Council-funded project on this topic (see authorsinterest.org).

  • Crime Podcasts
    (Professor Jeremy Gans)

    It is nearly a decade since Sarah Koenig’s Serial caused podcasts in general and crime podcasts in particular to become mainstream. There are now hundreds of crime podcasts, including many that call for prosecutions of cold cases, cover ongoing trials in depth or seek reviews of past convictions. Some, for example 2018’s The Teacher’s Pet, have been feted for increasing public understanding of the criminal justice system and placing its features under scrutiny, but also harshly criticised, including for their impact on victims of crime, the fair trial of accused criminals and public understanding of principles like the presumption of innocence. The crime podcast space is a fertile one for legal or socio-legal research, whether focused on the general genre or parts of it, or examining the content or detail of particular podcasts. The topics ‘reading’ will naturally include several podcast ‘listenings’, and students will undoubtedly end up reviewing to several more of their choice in depth throughout the semester. (Note that many crime podcasts, including some we may cover in the introductory weeks of the subject, concern violence or abuse.)

  • Damages and the Law of Torts
    (Eric Descheemaeker)

    At its widest, “damages” simply means a money award for a wrong: the claimant, having brought and succeeded in an action, gets a remedy which, in the vast majority of cases, will be a sum of money. Historically little thought was given to the basis of the award: given that the quantum would have been decided by a jury, there was no need to.

    Modern tort scholarship has had to disentangle these awards, a work that is still very much in progress. What is it that they are trying to achieve, and what should we make of these objectives? In the process scholars (and courts) have come up with a bewildering range of adjectives: damages can be “compensatory” for a harm or loss, “nominal”, “exemplary”, “punitive”, “aggravated”, “vindicatory”, “restitutionary” but also “symbolic”, “hedonic”, “contemptuous”, “actual”, “general”, “special”, “consequential”, “normative”, etc. The list is open-ended, and these labels operate on different levels. Behind them lurk further questions, which have massive practical implications besides being of considerable intellectual interest: e.g. if damages are compensatory, what exactly is it that they are compensating for; if vindicatory, that they are vindicating, etc.?

    This topic offers students the opportunity to consider such monetary awards in depth. A variety of approaches are possible, for instance “top down” legal theory (e.g. what should damages look like if tort gave effect to, say, corrective justice?); “bottom up” theory (e.g. does the division drawn between “general” and “special” damages make sense?); semantics (e.g. what are the different things that courts might have in mind when they award damages described as “nominal”?); legal history (e.g. how have courts come to distinguish between aggravated and punitive damages?); comparative law (what do other common-law and/or civilian jurisdictions approach some of these issues?); legal taxonomy (e.g. do we engage in double-counting when we grant damages for abstract/normative losses and also damages for factual loss or emotional harm?) – or of course a combination of these. Any question that might be described as opening the lid of the damages box to examine what lies underneath would be relevant to this broad topic (while the emphasis lies in the law of torts, the topic leader is open to topics extending beyond it, e.g. into contract law or equity).

  • Family Violence and Legal Responses
    (Professor Heather Douglas)

    The topic will consider national and international debates about legal responses to family violence. It will provide an opportunity to focus on the recognition of family violence in the criminal law, including offences es (eg. homicide, assaults, coercive control, stalking, torture, sexual offences and through hybrid models including the criminalization of breaches of protection orders) and defences (eg. self-defence, duress, provocation etc). How family violence is recognised in criminal procedure and the trial process may also be considered, including the role and need for specialist police powers, family violence charging approaches, evidence provisions, jury directions and sentencing approaches as well as considering the need for specialist courts. Students may choose to explore beyond criminal law to examine how other legal responses recognize family violence (eg. family law, civil protection order law, the ‘migration exception’ etc) both emerging forms, including technology-facilitated abuse, legal systems abuse, reproductive coercion and animal abuse, as well more well-recognised forms such as physical, sexual, psychological abuse and financial abuse. Students may choose to undertake a comparative analysis of the gaps, limitations or unintended consequences of family violence legal responses and reforms, particularly on individuals who are members of minority groups, such LGBTIQ+ people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people who are living with a disability or a mental illness.

  • Global Trade and Foreign Investment: Contestation and Reform
    (Professor Jürgen Kurtz)

    International economic law and its institutions are paradigmatic embodiments of transnational law and governance.  Yet they are subject to an array of contemporary challenges and pressures. After decades of deepening levels of multilateral trade cooperation, we are now witnessing the sudden emergence of dangerous levels of unilateralism and protectionism.  In the United States, the Trump Administration’s turn to destabilising tariffs in the guise of its “America First” policies have provoked swift retaliation by both strategic competitors (China) and allies (Canada and the European Union).  Australia too has been the subject of unprecedented unilateral tariffs imposed by China during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The World Trade Organization is increasingly unable to manage these pressures and violations, with its vaunted dispute settlement system now also rapidly approaching a dangerous possibility of stasis.  International investment law is no less conflicted. Constructed against a historical contingency of state hostility to foreign investors (in the post-colonial period), bilateral and regional investment treaties have prioritised protection of foreign investment without adequate respect for the regulatory autonomy and constitutional obligations of host states.  This structural imbalance was vividly illustrated by the claim for damages launched by Philip Morris against Australia on the basis that Australia’s plain packaging laws for cigarette products breached the Hong Kong – Australia Bilateral Investment Treaty.  Investor-state arbitration and protection standards in investment treaties sit at the apex of state dissatisfaction, with important strategic actors like the European Union advancing judicial reform possibilities.

    In the seminars of this JD topic of Legal Research, we will explore this unsettled terrain in two key parts.  First, we will examine the historical justifications, norms and goals pursued by key parts of international economic law in the post-Second World War period, especially in cross-border trade (in the form of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1947 and later the World Trade Organization 1993) and foreign investment (through bilateral investment treaties).  Second, we will seek to identify the political economy factors driving contemporary state reassessment/recalibration of levels of commitment to those legal structures and institutions.  Using those analytical start points, students will have a strong foundation to build a research topic in this dynamic and contested field.

  • Secularism
    (Professor Farrah Ahmed)

    Secularism is widely considered a necessary feature of democracy, liberalism, and modernity. There is little doubt about its keystone position in modern liberal states: it has been described as a hegemonic doctrine and ‘one of the dominant ideas of the twentieth century’. Constitutions around the world protect, endorse and invoke secularism (e.g. through provisions forbidding the establishment of a state religion). However, for decades now, critical scholarship has exposed so-called ‘crises of secularism’ which have challenged the complacency with which secularism was widely regarded. Scholars have raised the concern that secularism cannot travel well beyond France and the US , that it is unavailable to particular groups,, and that it is a tool for the state to discipline religion and oppress religious followers.  This topic will equip students for thoughtful inquiry into the nature, value and dangers of secularism as it is understood and expressed in comparative constitutional contexts.

  • Tax Advocacy and Reform
    (Professor Sunita Jogarajan)

    Quota: Maximum quota of 5 students only.

    Additional Prerequisites: Students are strongly advised to have completed Taxation Law and Policy (LAWS50046) or have undertaken taxation studies in their undergraduate degree to enrol in this topic.

    This legal research topic will provide students with the opportunity to advocate on behalf of groups of vulnerable taxpayers (individuals and small businesses) for administrative and/or legal reform. This topic is one component of the MLS Tax Clinic but students in this topic are not required to also undertake the Tax Clinic subject.

    Students will be provided with a list of issues which affect groups of vulnerable taxpayers and will be required to complete a legal research paper in relation to one of the identified issues and propose administrative and/or legislative reform. Students may also develop their own legal research topic relating to tax reform for individuals or small business.

    Please contact Professor Sunita Jogarajan for further information.

  • Treason, Sedition, Heresy and Dissent: Political Trials in History
    (Associate Professor Amanda Whiting)

    Students will research and write a paper on the continuing significance of an historically important prosecution and trial for ‘political crimes’ such as treason, sedition, rebellion, agitation, heresy, blasphemy and other forms of dissent. After studying examples of this genre of legal history writing and a selection of primary source materials, students will be assisted to select their own topic.

    Students already acquainted with historical research methods will be able to refine their skills. There is, however, no expectation of prior historical training, and students who are new to the study of history will be given guidance to develop an appropriate research methodology to fit their chosen topic. The research paper should include at least two of the following three aspects (unless permission for a variation has been granted): (i) analysis of trial records and contemporaneous documentation such as reports in the mass media, pamphlets and other polemical materials; (ii) examples of the way the trial has been mythologised and reinterpreted, for example through subsequent treatment in elite or popular culture or within politico-legal discourse; (iii) evaluation of changing ‘serious’ or academic analysis by historians and legal scholars and how and why scholarly interpretations have changed over time.

    A small selection of some of the many excellent research papers written by JD students who have previously taken this topic can be found in Legal History Matters: From Magna Carta to the Clinton Impeachment, edited by Amanda Whiting and Ann O’Connell (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2020) – e-book held in university Library.

  • Trends in Climate Litigation
    (Dr Cait Storr)

    This topic will survey contemporary trends in climate litigation by examining recent notable cases in Australian, foreign and international jurisdictions. Students will first examine key milestones in ‘traditional’ climate litigation in Australian administrative law and planning and environmental law, and will then move to consider the expansion of climate litigation to encompass more creative avenues for establishing public and corporate accountability for climate-related harms, and for climate change mitigation and adaptation. We will read recent cases in tort and consumer protection (including climate change risk disclosure), and in human rights and public international law. Students will undertake a detailed sociolegal study of a suitable case or line of cases, examining the historical background of the case, the existing law and novel arguments led, and the objectives, challenges, risks and rewards of running strategic litigation.

Enrolling in Legal Research

Students cannot self-enrol, or register into classes, for Legal Research. Students must first apply for a Legal Research topic, then only approved applicants will be enrolled into the relevant offering and registered in the required class by the Academic Support Office.

Waitlists are not maintained for Legal Research topics, and topic quotas cannot be exceeded.

At the start of the timely application period, the upcoming year topics will be released and eligible students apply for their preferred topics (five preferences required).

All timely Legal Research topic applications are subject to a selection process.

Prerequisite waivers must be submitted during the timely application period for them to be considered for timely selection.

After applications close, places in topics are randomly allocated to eligible students and the Academic Support Office will notify students, via email, of their application outcome.

Timely applications open Monday 14 November 2022 (11.00am AEDT).

Timely application form

Timely applications close Monday 12 December 2022 (11.59pm AEDT).

During the late application period, students can apply for Legal Research topics (may select up to two preferences) which are under quota. These applications will be assessed on a first-in basis.

Late applications will open following the close of the timely application period.

Please note:

  • Waitlists are not maintained for Legal Research topics and quotas cannot be exceeded.
  • Topics will be removed from this list once enrolment is no longer possible.
  • Topic availability last updated - 21 Nov 2022 12:04pm.