Social capital literature, which has flourished since the 1990s, teaches us that participation in social groups yields benefits both for the individuals involved – increasing, inter alia, their health, job prospects, lifetime income, likelihood of recovery from illness, ability to enjoy old age, as well as their tolerance of minority groups – and for society as a whole – making the economy stronger, government less corrupt and more effective, crime rates decrease and social stability increase. At the same time, although we now know how important social groups are, many countries are experiencing a steep decline in civic participation and associational life. There may be many reasons for this (transitory lifestyles, increased use of social media, lower marriage and birth rates etc.), the majority of which seem to lie beyond law’s remit. 

However, it is at least arguable that liberal theory is characteristically indifferent to and suspicious of social groups, even if, in principle, liberal constitutionalism seeks to safeguard social groups and shore up their attendant social capital through its vindication of freedom of association. This characteristic tension arises from the fact that protecting social groups means protecting the right of individuals to subject themselves to the authority of an associational agreement other than the one proposed by the state.

This paper is an initial exploration of the contours of the protection offered by freedom of association in comparative perspective with the aim of ultimately facilitating an evaluation of the extent to which law protects social groups. 


Presented by Dr Maria Cahill. Chaired by Nicholas Aroney

Maria Cahill is a Lecturer in the School of Law, University College Cork, Ireland and is currently a Visiting Fellow of the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Law at the University of Melbourne. She is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin (LLB, 2003) and the European University Institute, Florence, Italy (LLM, 2004; PhD 2008). She lectured at the National University of Ireland, Galway, before joining the Faculty of Law at University College Cork in August 2008. She was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of European and Comparative Law at the University of Oxford in 2015 and is currently Kathleen Fitzpatrick Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at the Melbourne Law School. Her work has been published in the International Journal of Constitutional Law, Cambridge Law Journal, American Journal of Jurisprudence, German Law Journal, Dublin University Law Journal, Irish Jurist, and the Irish Journal of European Law. As a result, her ideas have been relied on in a judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal and informed arguments in cases before the High Court and Supreme Court of Ireland as well as the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. In 2017, Dr. Cahill received the Early Stage Researcher of the Year Award at University College Cork. She is a Research Associate of the Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government, in the University of Oxford's Faculty of Law.


This event is presented as a joint Centre for Public, International and Comparative Law and Law and Religion Program Seminar.


Level 3, Forgan Smith Building The University of Queensland
Sir Gerard Brennan Boardroom (W353)