A new edition of a book co-authored by Associate Professor Heather Roberts from The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law closely examines current issues in property law in New South Wales, including the latest judicial and legislative reforms and the impact of the move to electronic conveyancing in the state.
Published by LexisNexis Butterworths, Property Law in New South Wales, 5th edition is jointly authored by Dr Roberts, Dr Janice Gray (UNSW), Associate Professor Neil Foster (University of Newcastle) and Honorary Lecturer Dr Darryn Jensen (ANU College of Law).
In this Q&A, Dr Roberts discusses the book and how it aims to provide clear and accessible explanations of some of the latest controversies and challenges in New South Wales property law.
What are the origins of your interest in property law?
My passion for this area all started in the ANU Law classroom. I was taught by the legendary Professor Phillipa Weeks, ANU Law's 'smiling assassin'.*
She had a way of bringing the most complex legal principles to life, and explaining them with a clarity and urgency that made me want to delve deeper.
When I worked in a large corporate law firm after graduation it reinforced my conviction that a strong understanding of the principles and intricacies of property law was essential training to modern practice. When I returned to ANU as a lecturer at ANU Law it was the first subject I asked to teach.
* She was the smiling assassin because she had an unwavering commitment to her students, and always greeted them by name and with a smile you knew came from the heart. But she was merciless as an assessor. You knew if Phillipa had graded your work you had better get it perfect.
How did you come to contribute to this book and why do you enjoy writing it?
I was fortunate that Dr Gray, the original author, contacted me to be a co-author in the 4th edition. Even more fortuitously, she asked me to take over chapters that are my favourite topics to teach at ANU Law.
These topics address some of the more common legal questions that arise in real-world conversations around the dinner table. Is finders keepers really a thing? If you install an expensive dishwasher in your rental house can you take it with you when you go? Grandad promised if I took care of his garden I would inherit the house, will I?
I am also fascinated by the Torrens system, the system of registration that operates throughout Australia, and has been imported into many jurisdictions internationally. It is a continuing reminder that law reform can be substantial and transformative, when there is an urgency and passion to make it happen.
Having said that, there are questions whether the move to an electronic system of conveyancing stands up to the objectives of the original system, and I've written about some of unresolved questions around those reforms with my colleague, Andrew Henderson (Andrew Henderson and Heather Roberts, ‘Electronic conveyancing: What happens when the computer says "no"?’, Australian Law Journal, 2022).
What are you working on now?
In property, I am working on a project with Dr Damian Clifford and Andrew Ray on digital assets as property (as part of Oxford University’s Modern Studies in Property Law).
My other academic interests lie in judicial studies, and I am currently working on a project that examines how expectations of what makes a 'good judge' have varied in Australia over time. The project will provide important new data about the composition of Australian courts over time, and inform debate about what qualities Australians’ need in their judges in the future.