Emeritus Professor Peter Cane FBA, FASSA, FAAL

Emeritus Professor
BA LLB (Sydney); BCL, DCL (Oxford)

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Research Themes


Peter Cane was Professor of Law at ANU from 1997-2007, and Distinguished Professor from 2007-2016. From 1978-1997 he taught at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, successively as Lecturer and Tutor, Reader and professor. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge (https://www.christs.cam.ac.uk) and Yorke Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge.
His main research interests are in public law (especially comparative administrative law), private law (especially tort law) and legal theory (especially concepts of responsibility).
He is a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the Australian Academy of Law.


  • Senior Research Fellow, Christ's College, Cambridge (2016 - current)
  • Yorke Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge (2016 - current)
  • Distinguished Professor of Law, Australian National University (2007 - 2016)
  • Professor of Law, Australian National University (1997-2007)

Significant research publications

The Anatomy of Tort Law (1997, translated into Mandarin and Spanish)

Responsibility in Law and Morality (2002, translated into Mandarin)

The Political Economy of Personal Injury Law (2007)

Administrative Tribunals and Adjudication (2009)

Controlling Administrative Power (2016)

Key Ideas in Tort Law (2017)

Recent news

Associate Professor Moeen Cheema
Associate Professor Moeen Cheema's new book has been praised as a 'must-read' for anyone interested in constitutionalism in South Asia.
Liam Boyle
An essay titled ‘The Significant Role of the Australia Acts in Australian Public Law’ written by Liam Boyle, a senior lawyer at the Australian Government Solicitor in Canberra, has won the prestigious 2020 Zines Prize for Excellence in Legal Research.
ANU Law Professors Peter Cane and Jane Stapleton
ANU College of Law Distinguished Professor Jane Stapleton has burst through it to become the first woman in 500 years to be elected as the Master of Christ’s College Cambridge.
Reasonableness and rationality are key legal concepts to be explored by Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Robert French AC, and Professor Jerry Mashaw, Sterling Professor of Law Emeritus and Professorial Lecturer, Yale University.

Research biography

I am currently engaged in various projects.
One is the co-editing of multi-authored volumes on Comparative Administrative Law (for OUP), a History of the Constitution of the United Kingdom, and a Legal History of Australia (both for CUP).

An important aim of these initiatives is to stimulate and encourage scholarship in these areas as well as to provide excellent, up-to-date treatments of these topics, especially for readers who already have some relevant knowledge.

My current work in legal theory and public law is concerned with the way power and authority are distributed and controlled in complex legal and governmental systems using comparative and historical methodologies.

Currently supervising

PhD supervision

Because I am currently living in the UK I am not available to take on new research students at ANU.

Philosophy & approach

I held a research-intensive post at ANU and apart from participation in a graduate public-law seminar in Cambridge, I have not been significantly involved in graduate or undergraduate course-work teaching since the late 1990s. However, I understand much of what I do as forms of teaching. I continue to supervise currently enrolled ANU PhD students, and to mentor more junior colleagues.

Over the years, I have written a number of books for students and I'm still involved in some of these. Writing clearly and accessibly for student lawyers is extremely challenging and, in my mind, a form of teaching. I am also interested in community legal literacy. Some years ago I co-edited the New Oxford Companion to Law, published by OUP for a general audience. For me, teaching is a form of communication, and the best teaching relationships are interactive between teacher and student, and amongst students.

The other side of teaching is learning. To my mind, there are two main forms of learning: assisted learning and self-learning. Research is a form of self-learning and, therefore, a form of self-teaching. So-called 'original research' is the process of learning something that no-one has previously learned. Most research is not original in this sense but rather involves teaching oneself what (some) others have already learned. Original research is impossible without a great deal of preliminary self-teaching/learning of what others already know. Originality is always only the tip of the academic iceberg. To change the metaphor: even the most original thinkers 'stand on the shoulders of giants'.

Assisted learning involves communication by a teacher to a learner. We are never too old to learn or too young to teach. The best assisted-learning environments allow the teacher also to learn and the learner also to teach. Teaching, learning and research are intertwined activities that lie at the heart of what universities are for.

Learning, teaching and researching about law derive their value and excitement from helping us to understand much about what it means to be human. As the ANU motto says: first, understand the nature of things.

Past courses

I taught law for 20 years at Oxford University. There, the prime medium of tuition was (and largely still is) the small group tutorial (1-4 students). I find this the most congenial and stimulating form of teaching and I was privileged to have the opportunity to participate in a system that regularly involved 12 hours of personal contact with undergraduates each week. Over the years I taught contract, tort, administrative law, constitutional law and jurisprudence.

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