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Society and Ethics

What is right and wrong behaviour?  And when should law step in? When should unethical actions become unlawful or regulated and why?

Society and ethics

At Adelaide Law School, we  set out  to  answer such basic moral and social questions.  Our research is both theoretical and applied. We study the principles of good conduct and we produce practical recommendations for legal change.

Across the Faculty of law, our researchers consider the ethical dimensions of law. The span of our research is considerable. It includes the study of fair and compassionate dispute resolution, ethical ownership, a principled criminal law and the very nature of Australian legal identity.

Our research institutes and groupings working in this area are

The Research Unit for the Study of Society, Ethics & the Law (RUSSEL)

Under the directorship of Assoc Prof Bernadette Richards, this is a diverse group of researchers with a common interest in the intersection of ethics, law and society. We are asking such basic and practical questions as: What ought the law to be? What is a principled law? These fundamental questions are directed at most of the major branches of law. We are asking, for example:

  • What innovative medical treatment should be permitted?
  • What principles should guide medical decision-making?
  • What should be the duties of corporate directors?
  • How can lawyers protect and advise vulnerable clients?
  • What are the foundation principles of criminal law?
  • How do we make corporations ethical?

Law and Religion Project

Under the directorship of Prof Paul Babie, this is the first centre or institute in Australia to study the relationship between society, law and religion. We are asking some of the most basic questions about the nature of law and religion:

  • What (if any) should be the role of religion the protection of human rights, including freedom of (and from) religion and privacy?
  • What can law do about religious fundamentalism?
  • What should be the role of religion in education?

South Australian Law Reform Institute

Under the directorship of Dr David Plater, Deputy Director, the South Australian Law Reform Institute is based at the Adelaide Law School. It was formed by an agreement between the Attorney-General of South Australia, the University of Adelaide and the Law Society of South Australia. It conducts legal research and reviews of the law and legal policy. It asks such basic reform questions as:

  • Should provocation be a partial defence to murder?

SALRI is presently completing its Report into provocation and related issues such as implications of abolition in family violence and sentencing.

  • What should be the nature of police powers?

SALRI is examining police electronic powers of search and seizure and the common law forfeiture rule in homicide cases.

Our concentrations of research and researchers are

Criminal Law and Justice

  • How should we protect vulnerable witnesses?

David Plater and David Caruso are  researching the plight of vulnerable witnesses  within the criminal justice system and evaluating  recent legislative changes in South Australia to help vulnerable parties in court.

  • How many times should we be able to appeal?

David Caruso  is currently conducting a review of  a new system of appeals in South Australia, which  provides for any number of criminal appeals on meritorious grounds. The regime is the first of its kind in Australia.

Human Rights and Discrimination

  • What is Australian identity?

Professor Alex Reilly is examining the relationship between the formal criteria for membership of Australian society through citizenship and migration law, and people’s connections to places.

Law and Religion

  • Should conscience be protected?

Paul Babie has a range of  projects on  freedom of conscience and religion and the separation of church and state in international and domestic legal structures, and on the relationship between law and theology.

Property and the Environment

  • What should we be allowed to own? 

Paul Babie is investigating the ethical basis of ownership, especially  in relation to land and other natural resources

  • What rights should we have to water? 

Paul Babie and Paul Leadbeter  are  examining the unbundling of water rights with a particular SA focus.

  • Should work ever be unpaid? Should unpaid work be regulated?

Anne Hewitt, Joanna Howe, Rosemary Owens and  Andrew Stewart are examining the nature of  unpaid work, particularly in the transition between school and employment (with the support of an ARC Discovery Grant).