Current research projects | Law

Current research projects


International Law

  • International Law and US Power (Shirley Scott)
  • International Law as Ideology (Shirley Scott)
  • The Roles of Legal Cultures & Traditions in the International Legal Order (Colin Picker)

This research will consider the role of legal culture and legal traditions in the formation and operation of international law and its institutions.  Specifically, it will focus on the role of the two primary legal traditions in the world – the Common and Civil Law traditions, but will also consider non-western legal traditions.

  • International Institution & Legal Culture – A Proposed Methodology (Colin Picker)

An understanding of the role of legal traditions in international organizations (IOs) could allow better management of internal conflict and communications problems.  It may also permit IOs to more successfully borrow solutions from appropriate domestic legal systems.  This research will also consider the reasons why such examinations have generally not been undertaken in the past and will offer a methodology for comparative analysis of IOs.

  • The Security Council’s Practice of Adopting Sanctions Targeting Individuals (Chris Michaelsen)
  • Narratives of the International Legal Order and their Impact on Specialized Fields of International Law (Lucas Lixinski, with Nikolas Rajkovic - European University Institute -, and Surabhi Ranganathan - University of Cambridge)


Climate Change & Environmental Law

  • International Law in the Era of Climate Change (Shirley Scott, Rosemary Rayfuse)
  • The Future Ocean: Climate Change and the Marine Environment (Rosemary Rayfuse)
  • The International Legal Implications of Sea Level Rise, Associated Human Displacement and Disappearing States (Rosemary Rayfuse)
  • International Law and Geo-Engineering: the Legal Implications of Engineering the Earth’s Environment to Mitigate Climate Change (Rosemary Rayfuse)
  • Weathering Uncertainty: Climate Change “Refugees” and International Law (Jane McAdam)

This project, funded by a three-year Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, critically examines the extent to which States have obligations to ‘protect’ people displaced by climate change under international refugee law, international human rights law, and international law on statelessness. Significantly, the project will evaluate whether flight from habitat destruction should be viewed as another facet of traditional international protection, or as a new challenge requiring new legal solutions. By developing an international law framework for understanding climate-induced displacement, it will enable international and regional policymakers to devise sustainable, principled and practical solutions for so-called climate change ‘refugees’.

  • Geographic Indications and Climate Change: The Removal of the “Geographic” from the “GI” (Colin Picker)

This research considers the fundamental nature of geographic indications, a nature laid bare when the operation of GIs is challenged by the likely consequences of climate change.


Law of the Sea

  • The Unfree Seas: High Seas Governance in the 21st Century (Rosemary Rayfuse)


Human Rights / Bill of Rights

  • Protecting economic, social and cultural Rights in the ACT: models, methods and impact (Andrew Byrnes)

ARC Linkage project with Professor Hilary Charlesworth, Regnet, ANU) in collaboration with the ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety (LP0989167)

  • National Human Rights Institutions in the Asia Pacific Region Project (Andrew Byrnes, Andrea Durbach, Catherine Renshaw)

ARC Linkage Project (with Andrea Durbach and Catherine Renshaw), in collaboration with the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, entitled “Building Human Rights in the Region through Horizontal Transnational Networks: the. Role of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions” (LP0776639), details at (This link is no longer available)

  • Australia’s First Bill of Rights: Assessing the Impact of the Australian Capital Territory’s Human Rights Act 2004 (Andrew Byrnes)

ARC Linkage Project (with Hilary Charlesworth, Regnet, ANU), in collaboration with the ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety) (LP0455490), details at

  • The effectiveness of codes of conduct in protecting against corporate human rights violations (Justine Nolan)

The project is examining the effectiveness of codes of conduct in protecting against corporate human rights violations. In particular 3 codes in the apparel, extractive and internet industries and draws on the lessons learned from each process including their effectiveness in providing substantive protection for human rights.

  • Human Rights Impacts of WTO Law (Gillian Moon)


Immigration and Refugees

  • Immigration Restriction and the Racial State, c. 1880 to the Present (Jane McAdam)

This is a four-year Australian Research Council Discovery Grant which examines the history of medico-legal border control in the Asia-Pacific region. This grant is held in conjunction with two historians, Associate Professor Alison Bashford at Sydney University and Dr Sunil Amrith at the University of London.

  • War Crimes and Refugee Status: The Application and Interpretation of International Humanitarian and International Criminal Law to the Adjudication of Refugee Status in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand (Jane McAdam)

This is a collaborative international project funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council International Opportunities Fund.  It involves researchers from four countries: Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill (University of Oxford), Professor Geoff Gilbert (University of Essex), Professor Kate Jastram (Berkeley), Assistant Professor James Simeon (York University, Toronto), and Associate Professor Jane McAdam (UNSW).

Through a comparative analysis of case law in the five jurisdictions mentioned above, the aims of the project are to:

  • Determine whether decision-makers cite to treaty provisions of or case law on International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law in deciding cases where exclusion is an issue in a claim for Convention refugee status.
  • Explore whether there is a common understanding across these states as to the meaning of International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law provisions relevant to refugee status determination.
  • Assess whether judges and decision-makers refer to the international law of armed conflict or international criminal law via their incorporation in UNHCR guidelines and directives.
  • Complementary protection (Jane McAdam)

‘Complementary protection’ describes the obligations States have under international human rights and humanitarian law towards people who are at risk of serious human rights violations in their country of origin, but who do not qualify as ‘refugees’ under the 1951 Refugee Convention. The Australian government is currently developing a system of complementary protection, which will bring Australia into line with the practices of countries like Canada, the Member States of the European Union, the United States, and (shortly) New Zealand.  Drawing on her extensive work in this area, Jane has been consulted by the Australian and New Zealand authorities with respect to their complementary protection models.


International Economic Law

  • Debt-for-development Exchanges as a Means to Enhance Australian and Regional Security (Ross Buckley)

This project, funded by a three year ARC Discovery grant, from 2008 to 2010, analyses the evolution and development of this financial technique and explores potentially new and innovative applications of it to developing countries. A book summarising the research findings of the project will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2011.

  • Regulatory Responses to the Global Financial Crisis: An Australian Perspective (Ross Buckley)

This project, funded by a three year ARC Discovery grant, from 2010 to 2012, analyses two potential responses to the regulatory failures that made possible the global financial crisis. The first is a re-examination of the efficacy of disclosure in contemporary financial markets of increasingly complex instruments. This work has begun by examining the notion of efficiency and analysing which sort of efficiency capital markets should be structured to achieve. The second is to explore the potential for greater regional financial integration. East Asia is highly integrated in terms of trade flows and production processes but poorly integrated in financial terms. This project explores the opportunities and potential of taking the recent expansion and multilateralisation of the Chiang Mai Initiative (the credit lines extended to each other by the Central Banks of the ASEAN+3 nations) even further by the establishment of an Asian Monetary Fund, and analyses the potential benefits this might bring to the region.

  • Systemic Responses to the Global Financial Crisis (Ross Buckley)

The EU, UK and US governments have all responded to the GFC with regulatory measures that represent more of the same thinking that brought us the GFC. This ongoing project explores two measures that would change the paradigm: a tiny tax of between 0.01 and 0.05% on all wholesale financial market transactions, and a sovereign bankruptcy regime.        International Investment Law: A Legal Cultural Critique

An understanding of the role of legal traditions and legal cultures could prove beneficial to participants in international investments.  Indeed, the role of legal culture may show up at all stages of an investment, from initiation to dispute resolution.  As such, this research will consider the many points throughout the investment process in which the issue of legal culture/tradition may be relevant.

  • Indigenous Peoples and International Institutions, a Clash of Legal Cultures? The Example of the WTO and Indigenous Peoples (Colin Picker)

The interaction between indigenous peoples and international institutions is all too often unsuccessful.  Part of the problem is that the interaction between indigenous peoples and international institutions cannot be considered in isolation of the interaction of their two different legal cultures.  The differing legal cultures involve everything from different understandings of substantive legal rights and obligations to accepted procedures of dispute resolution and governance and participation.  This research will this seek to identify compatible and incompatible characteristics of the two opposing (or complementing) legal cultures, in order to identify obstacles to and avenues for productive interaction.

  • The Future of WTO Governance – A Legal Cultural Critique (Colin Picker)

The governance of the WTO may be said to be broken.  To the extent that governance is dysfunctional, part of the problem may originate with the legal cultures present or surrounding the institution.  This research will consider those cultures and how it has served to stymie development of the institution and its body of law.

  • International Trade and Development Law: A Legal Cultural Critique (Colin Picker)

Despite the fact that international trade and development law are sophisticated and connected bodies of law, they are all too frequently at odds with each other.  Too often development is frequently sidelined and ineffective within the larger international trade environment.  Part of the reason may be found in the conflict between the legal cultures present in and surrounding both separate yet connected fields of law.


  • The Evolution of the Principle of Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources in the Americas (Lucas Lixinski, with Mats Ingulstad - Norwegian University of Science and Technology)


Terrorism / Counter-terrorism

  • International Law, Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism: Future Directions and Challenges (Christopher Michaelsen)

This project comprises of a number of sub-projects that analyse recent developments in public policy and international and domestic jurisprudence in relation to international law and human rights in the area of counter-terrorism. They include:

  • What criteria should define a terrorist attack as an “armed attack” as stipulated by Article 51 of the UN Charter, and under which circumstances may the victim state use force in self-defence against this attack?
  • Is the UN Security Council’s 1267 counter-terrorism sanctions regime compatible with international standards of due process; to what extent is the regime sustainable in its current form?
  • What is the relationship between the quasi-permanent threat of international terrorism and the option for States to “derogate” from international human rights obligations in times of public emergency?
  • Can States rely on so-called diplomatic assurances on the non-use of torture when deporting and extraditing individuals suspected of terrorism?
  • To what extent can (or should) intelligence agencies be held accountable for possible complicity in international crimes?



International Cultural Heritage Law

  • A Geography of International Cultural Heritage Law (Lucas Lixinski)

This project explores the ways in which different international legal regimes under UNESCO for the safeguarding of cultural heritage overlap, even though they do not provide for means to conciliate these overlaps. The failure to provide for rules of coordination results in highly asymmetric heritage protection, often to the detriment of heritage holders, who not only are excluded from participation in international decision-making about their heritage, but are also burdened domestically with the patchy legal frameworks resulting from the implementation of uneven international instruments.