The Sydney Neurolaw Project

The Sydney Neurolaw Project based at Sydney Law School, has finished work on a  detailed “neurolaw” reader and case law resource.  The resource maps the terrain of the emerging field of neurolaw, providing a guide to current practical questions in law that are directly affected by developments in neuroscience research.  We are also developing a case law data base, which is a collection of cases indicating the uses of neuroscience evidence  in Australian courtrooms.  The resources will lay the foundations for a broad research program in neurolaw based in the Law School, and a related new postgraduate Unit of Study in Neurolaw, to be offered in 2016.  Both the unit of study and the research program more broadly, touch on issues of legal capacity and responsibility for people with neurological and psychosocial impairments, and human rights and discrimination affecting people with mental impairments.  We also look at the legal uses of neuroscience for people in the general population.  This includes proving “invisible injuries” in court – such as pain, or psychiatric injuries like  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the role of neurological “proof of consciousness” in end of life decision making.   We look at potential stigma associated with brain-based explanations of human behavior, and its treatment in discrimination law, the impact of judge’s psychology on the curial process, and areas in which empirical research is still needed to develop appropriate “evidence-based law”.

For more information on the Sydney Neurolaw project, neurolaw research, or postgraduate coursework, please contact Sascha Callaghan.

Neuroscience in Australian Courtrooms: Responsibility, Liability and the Capacity to Punish

On the 25 June, we hosted the first Sydney Neurolaw Workshop:  Neuroscience in Australian Courtrooms: Responsibility, Liability and the Capacity to Punish at Sydney Law School.   The event focused on how new understandings of the brain and mind from the developing neurosciences, impact legal concepts such as responsibility and capacity, discrimination law, and even the process of judicial decision-making.  Four speakers across neuroscience, philosophy and law addressed various aspects of these questions, with an interdisciplinary panel of specialist commentators from general and forensic psychiatry, criminology, philosophy and the legal profession.

The workshop included contributions from the Brain and Mind Research Insitute’s Professor Max Bennett, Professor Nicole Vincent from Georgia State University, and Professor Neil Levy from Oxford University. It also presented an opportunity for early career researchers to showcase their work, including Dr Michael Sevel from Sydney Law School, and Dr Karen O’Connell from the Faculty of Law at UTS.  The event attracted  over 100 attendees from a broad cross section of universities and professional fields, including the NSW Bar, several law firms, Legal Aid, Justice Health NSW, NSW Drug Health Services, the Kirby Institute, the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and a number of Sydney hospitals. The university received excellent feedback after the event, and was a great endorsement of the broad interests and applications of  brain and mind research, and particularly its implications for law.