Researching Tort Law in Australia: Emerging Voices, Fresh Perspectives

On the 11 of July 2022, CLARS proudly hosted a scholarly round-table workshop entitled ‘Researching Tort Law in Australia: Emerging Voices, Fresh Perspectives.’ Its aim was simple: to bring into friendly and fruitful conversation Australian legal scholars who research the law of tort from a range of disciplinary perspectives, especially those at the early and middle stages of their careers. From all reports, the workshop was an enormous success.

The workshop coincided with the Edinburgh University Law Professor, Claudio Michelon’s visit to Australia. Spanning beyond debates in jurisprudence, Claudio’s research also encompasses hot topics in private law theory. The workshop got under away with a presentation on Claudio’s curiously entitled paper: ‘Primary Duty ¹ Secondary Duty?’ With a view to giving it more clarity, Claudio’s paper explored the still unresolved debate on the precise normative connection between primary and remedial duties in tort. Martin Allcock (Edith Cowan) led discussion on Claudio’s paper. Claudio and Martin’s discussion set the warm and supportive atmosphere in which the remainder of the workshop was conducted.

Laura Williams (La Trobe) presented highly topical research around the potentials and limitations of civil (primarily tort) actions as avenues for police/prison accountability in the ongoing crisis of indigenous harms and deaths in custody. Michael Douglas (UWA) presented creative doctrinal research concerning the possible bases upon which those who intentionally use the shield of the privilege attaching to otherwise defamatory statements to wage a public relations war in the media may be held tortiously liable. From a principally doctrinal perspective, Sharon Erbacher (Deakin) presented the makings of a critique of the High Court Australia’s recent, and much-debated, tort damages decision in Lewis v Australian Capital Territory [2020] HCA 26.

Tine Popa (RMIT) offered a change of perspective. She presented refreshingly practical research concerning how dispute resolution processes for tort claims involving personal injuries may be an ideal site for empirically informed law reform to create processes that better align to disputants’ needs. Adopting a distinctly theoretical perspective, Martin Allcock offered a critique of tortious liability for injuries by autonomously-driven vehicle from the perspective of corrective justice. The workshop concluded with a historical perspective, with Nick Sinanis (Monash) presenting part of his revisionist historical engagement with the law of exemplary (or punitive) damages in tort actions.

Special thanks are due to both Jason Taliadoros (Deakin) and Andrew Fell (Queensland), who agreed to participate in the conference as discussants. Both offered many stimulating and insightful comments. As always, Paul Burgess did a remarkable job of hosting the workshop in person at Monash Law Chambers. The workshop would also not have been possible without the terrific efforts of the law faculty’s professional support staff.