Society comprises individuals. While there are many things people do for themselves by individual effort or by exchange with others, certain needs can be addressed more conveniently by collective action. These include the protection of life, liberty and property, and the provision of essential public goods.

In constitutional democracies, these functions and associated powers are assigned to elected governments and other organs such as parliaments and courts subject to limits set by law. As power can be abused and misused, the perennial challenge of a free society is to ensure that it is limited to serving the public interest. In this course, students will explore how this challenge is met with varying degrees of success, and why some countries achieve relatively high standards of constitutional government while others fail.

The course investigates the sources and nature of public power and the constitutional devices that militate against the abuse of power. It will introduce students to theoretical advances in the relevant fields; cultivate their research skills; and promote original research on questions raised during the course. Students are encouraged to share with the group, their knowledge and experience of the constitutional systems of their own countries.

Topics covered include:

  • idea of a constitution
  • history of constitutionalism
  • types of constitution
  • legal basis of authority
  • moral basis of authority
  • constitutionalism and the economy
  • constitutional design:
    • separation of powers
    • representative democracy
    • appropriate devolution
    • human rights and freedoms
    • constitutional change

Professor Nicholas Aroney

Nicholas Aroney is Professor of Constitutional Law at The University of Queensland. He is a Fellow of the Centre for Public, International and Comparative Law, a Research Fellow of Emmanuel College at The University of Queensland, a Fellow of the Centre for Law and Religion at Emory University and an External Member of the Islam, Law and Modernity research program at Durham University. In 2010 he received of a four-year Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council to study comparative federalism. He has held visiting positions at Oxford, Cambridge, Paris II, Edinburgh, Durham, Sydney, Emory and Tilburg universities.

Professor Aroney has published over 100 journal articles, book chapters and books in the fields of constitutional law, comparative constitutional law and legal theory. He has led several international research projects in comparative federalism, bicameralism, legal pluralism, and law & religion, and he speaks frequently at international conferences on these topics. His most notable publications in these fields include: The Constitution of a Federal Commonwealth: The Making and Meaning of the Australian Constitution (Cambridge University Press, 2009), Shari'a in the West (Oxford University Press, 2010) (edited with Rex Ahdar), The Future of Australian Federalism (Cambridge University Press, 2012) (edited with Gabrielle Appleby and Thomas John), The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia: History, Principle and Interpretation (Cambridge University Press, 2015) (with Peter Gerangelos, James Stellios and Sarah Murray) and Courts in Federal Countries (Toronto University Press, 2017) (edited with John Kincaid).

Professor Aroney is a former editor of The University of Queensland Law Journal (2003-2005) and International Trade and Business Law Annual (1996-1998), and a past secretary of the Australian Society of Legal Philosophy. He is a past member of the Governing Council and the current Queensland Convenor of the Australian Association of Constitutional Law. He is also a member of the editorial advisory board of the American Journal of JurisprudencePublic Law Review and International Trade and Business Law Review. He has made numerous influential submissions to government inquiries and in 2013 undertook a review of the Crime and Misconduct Act for the Queensland Government with the Hon Ian Callinan AC QC, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia. In 2017 he was appointed by the Australian Prime Minister to an Expert Panel to advise on whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion.

Professor Aroney joined the Law School in 1995 after working with a major national law firm and acting as a legal consultant in the field of building and construction law.

Course information

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Course profile


This course may also be taken as a CPD course or a non-award course. 

CPD details and applications