Sophia wins 2019 Brennan Prize for customary international law research paper

Sophia Collins, a Bachelor of Languages/Laws (Hons) student
With her interests in languages and international law, Sophia Collins' studies and career ambitions have been shaped by a global outlook.

I had to think creatively and synthesise research from distinct but related areas of international law.

We’re proud to celebrate the success of Sophia Collins, a Bachelor of Languages/Laws (Hons) student recently awarded the 2019 Brennan Prize in Public International Law. Indeed, 2019 was a momentous year for Sophia who was also the inaugural International Bar Association legal intern based in London.

In this Q&A, she discusses her supervised research paper completed in Semester 2 last year for which she won the Brennan Prize awarded by the International Law Association (Australia).

Can you provide a brief overview of your paper and who supervised it?

My thesis was supervised by Dr Esmé Shirlow. It looked at a particular rule that influences the development of customary international law (CIL), an area of international law arising not by treaty but through the conduct of States.

CIL governs many areas of international law, from certain environmental obligations to aspects of the use of force. One aspect of CIL is the Specially Affected States Doctrine (SASD), which effectively means that States with a special interest in a particular rule of CIL play a more influential role in its development than other States. Despite its significance to CIL, the SASD has received little attention in international law scholarship.

What influenced your decision to focus on this topic for your paper?

The SASD is crucial to CIL, but no State, court or tribunal has provided a comprehensive contemporary test for its application. Considering its importance to some of the most pressing international law issues of our time, this seems to be an important omission.

How did you research this topic and were there any challenges in this process?

The lack of existing scholarship was a barrier; I had to think creatively and synthesise research from distinct but related areas of international law. The Honours process is itself a challenge – writing a 13,000-word paper in one semester is stressful! But I was very pleased with the end result.

How did you feel upon learning you received the 2019 Brennan Prize in Public International Law?

It is a considerable honour to receive this prize – and a great recognition of the effort I put into my Honours thesis, with support from my supervisor, family and friends. I am presently in the process of submitting my article for publication – and being awarded the Brennan Prize gives me confidence in the quality of my work.

And finally, can you talk a bit about your next steps after ANU?

I recently commenced as a graduate with MinterEllison in Canberra, where I am working in the Commercial and Regulatory team. At this stage I am not sure what the future holds, but as someone who grew up living abroad and undertook exchanges/internships in Madrid, London and Indonesia during my studies at the ANU, I hope it involves a global outlook.

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