New book co-authored by ANU administrative law expert examines government liability

Associate Professor Greg Weeks
Co-authored by Associate Professor Greg Weeks, the book draws on public and private law principles as well as the roles of non-legal accountability mechanisms. Photos: Tom Fearon/ANU

A new book co-authored by Associate Professor Greg Weeks is the first of its kind in Australia to draw together the principal means of challenging and remedying harm caused by government decisions and conduct.

Published by LexisNexis Butterworths, Government Liability: Principles and Remedies is jointly authored by Associate Professor Weeks, Deputy Head of The Australian National University (ANU) Law School; Dr Janina Boughey, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales Faculty of Law; and Dr Ellen Rock, a lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law.

In this Q&A, Associate Professor Weeks discusses the book and how it aims to help practitioners work across traditional legal “silos” in public and private law. 

What inspired you to write this book?

Dr Janina Boughey and I had been thinking for some time about putting together a book that was aimed at making life easy for people who want to know what their legal rights are. Janina wanted to call the book “101 Ways to Sue the Government” – she maintains it would sell better if we did – but that’s the idea behind it: to let people know what they can and can’t do.

How do government decisions and conduct uniquely impact individuals?

Government plays a very large part in all of our lives. As much as people may have a dispute between each other over property ownership or similar, in many cases it is more likely we would have that dispute with the government. The government’s tentacles reach far and wide. For example, I may have a contractual relationship with the government to provide certain services, and if the government sought to terminate that I would want to know what specific remedies I had against the government because it’s not like people; it has other interests.

What are the origins of your interest in administrative law?

I have a passion for this area that not many people share, and it started when I was a student. I had a very good administrative law teacher who brought such energy and enthusiasm to the subject that I couldn’t help but share it. I went on to write research theses in that area and completed my PhD on it, too. It’s worked out very well because, at the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology Sydney where I’ve worked before, I was one of a very small number of administrative lawyers. Here at the ANU College of Law, I have a lot of very good colleagues around me.

What was most rewarding in collaborating with your co-authors?

We actually recruited a third co-author (Dr Ellen Rock) fairly quickly because we realised we couldn’t do everything alone. We all wound up picking up knowledge in areas that were strictly speaking not fields of our greatest expertise, but because they all linked to government we began to see some common themes.

One of the really interesting parts of it was the modern aspect of our cooperation that couldn’t have happened in years gone by. We’re operating from different institutions and collaborating via email and the odd phone call was very efficient. There weren’t any conflicts and democracy ruled at all times.

I had a lot of fun writing the introduction. The idea that has gripped me for a while is that none of us is just the thing we teach; our tort lawyers at ANU College of Law, by and large, have expertise elsewhere and just happen to teach tort law. Nothing fits as neatly into the subject-matter “silos” as you might you believe at law school, and this is the first thing that confronts students when they graduate and go into practice. There is no pure “property law problem” or “equity law problem” – there is always more context.

Putting these issues in context and getting rid of the “silo mentality” was a lot of fun, and will also hopefully be quite useful to people.

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Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team