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Refugee Law (LAWS50101)

Graduate coursework level 5Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework Level 5
Subject codeLAWS50101
Availability(Quotas apply)
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

This subject offers JD students the opportunity to undertake advanced and specialised study in an important contemporary subset of public law. Refugee law in Australia (as in most of the 147 states party to the Refugee Convention) is inspired and guided by international treaty obligations but anchored in domestic constitutional and administrative law. It is therefore an excellent example of the interdependence of domestic and international public law.

At the heart of the course is the constant tension between international and domestic public law, a tension that exists across the legal system as a whole but is particularly poignant in the context of human rights law. This theme is examined throughout the course as students are introduced to the way in which this struggle has manifested in Constitutional Law (both in the context of interpreting the Commonwealth's broad plenary powers over 'aliens' and 'immigration' and in understanding the limits on Commonwealth power) and Administrative Law (by examining the significant impact which refugee law has had on shaping and pushing the boundaries of administrative law principles). Another central theme is the tension between branches of government; in particular the courts on the one hand and the legislature and executive on the other.

The subject will begin with an historical introduction to international refugee law, before turning to consider the key international instruments for the protection of refugees including the Refugee Convention and Protocol (including the role of the UNHCR); regional instruments; customary international law; and international human rights treaties. The course concentrates primarily on the 1951 Convention, exploring the key controversies in interpreting the refugee definition and extent of international protection afforded to refugees. This provides a framework for considering the implementation of the Refugee Convention in Australian domestic law. The course will also equip students to read, comprehend and contextualise comparative jurisprudence, because in examining the way in which Australian decision-makers have interpreted the definition of 'refugee', students will study high level case-law from across the common law world, as well as some key decisions from civil law jurisdictions.

Refugee law is taught in the format of a 3 hour seminar per week, designed to facilitate deep engagement with the material in the form of class discussion and interaction. In addition, guest speakers will address the students in order to provide an understanding of recent developments and cutting edge issues in refugee law and practice in Australia and internationally.

Intended learning outcomes

A student who has successfully completed the subject should have a rich and integrated understanding of the domestic and international aspects of the governance of refugee law in Australia. In particular, students should:

  • Understand the international development of refugee law;
  • Have specialised knowledge of the different international instruments governing refugee law at the international level and understand the differences between them;
  • Have advanced knowledge of the framework for resolving the key controversies in interpreting the definition of 'refugee' in the 1951 Refugee Convention, namely, by reference to the rules of treaty interpretation and comparative jurisprudence;
  • Have an expert understanding of the way in which international refugee law is implemented in the Australian domestic legal system;
  • Understand at an advanced level the structure of decision-making in Australian refugee law, including the important role of tribunals and the limited nature of judicial review;
  • Have insight into the practical operation of refugee law in Australia and an ability to critically analyse and reflect on the limits of judicial review;
  • Have advanced and specialised knowledge of the way in which refugee law has shaped the development of administrative law principles; and
  • Have an advanced and nuanced understanding of the challenges in implementing international refugee law in Australia domestic law and be able to reflect critically on current refugee policy including in respect of regional processing arrangements.

Generic skills

On completion of Refugee Law, students should have developed and demonstrated their skills in the following areas:

  • Advanced and specialised skills in reading, comprehending and interpreting Australian legislation and case-law;
  • Advanced technical skills in treaty interpretation (drawing on and extending skills in statutory interpretation developed in previous public law compulsory subjects);
  • An expert ability to read, comprehend, reflect on and synthesise case-law interpreting the definition of 'refugee' from a wide range of common law and civil law jurisdictions;
  • An ability to understand and apply general principles and theories of international law and international human rights law to the specialised context of refugee law;
  • An advanced capacity for critical and independent thought and reflection, in particular to reflect critically on contemporary refugee law, policy and practice in Australia; and
  • An advanced ability to observe, evaluate, interpret and transmit an analysis of a discrete refugee law case in the form of written assessment.

Eligibility and requirements


Successful completion of all the below subjects:

Code Name Teaching period Credit Points
LAWS50023 Legal Method and Reasoning
Summer Term
LAWS50024 Principles of Public Law
Semester 1
LAWS50028 Constitutional Law
Semester 2
LAWS50032 Administrative Law
Semester 1



Non-allowed subjects

Students who have completed any of the below subjects are not permitted to take LAWS50101 Refugee Law:

Code Name Teaching period Credit Points
LAWS70394 International Refugee Law:Refugee Rights 12.5
LAWS70366 International Refugee Law

Recommended background knowledge

It is recommended that students complete the below subject before attempting this one. However this is not compulsory. Students who have not completed the below subject will be provided with some additional background reading at the beginning of the subject.

Code Name Teaching period Credit Points
LAWS50041 Public International Law
Semester 1

Core participation requirements

The University of Melbourne is committed to providing students with reasonable adjustments to assessment and participation under the Disability Standards for Education (2005), and the Assessment and Results Policy (MPF1326). Students are expected to meet the core participation requirements for their course. These can be viewed under Entry and Participation Requirements for the course outlines in the Handbook.

Further details on how to seek academic adjustments can be found on the Student Equity and Disability Support website: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/student-equity/home


Additional details

  • Court report (25%): Students will be required to attend a hearing in respect of a claim for a protection visa (a refugee claim) in the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court and prepare a 1,500 word written report related to that visit. The report may take the form of written submissions, a judgment, or another format approved in advance by the course coordinator; AND

AND Either

  • Take-home examination lasting 8 hours with a maximum word limit of 4,000 words (75%);
  • OR A 5,000 word research essay (75%). Should students choose the essay option they will be expected to devise their own topic in consultation with the lecturer. It is expected that students will attend a lunch time session on research skills conducted by the library, undertake sophisticated research including both primary and secondary material, generate complex argumentation, and demonstrate highly developed analytical and critical skills

The due date of the above assessment will be available to students via the Assessment Schedule on the LMS Community.

Quotas apply to this subject

Dates & times

  • Semester 2
    Principal coordinatorMatthew Albert
    Mode of deliveryOn Campus — Parkville
    Contact hours36 hours
    Total time commitment144 hours
    Teaching period29 July 2019 to 27 October 2019
    Last self-enrol date 9 August 2019
    Census date31 August 2019
    Last date to withdraw without fail27 September 2019
    Assessment period ends22 November 2019

    Semester 2 contact information

    Email: law-aso@unimelb.edu.au
    Phone: +61 3 8344 4475
    Website: law.unimelb.edu.au

Additional delivery details

This subject has an enrolment quota of 60 students. Your subject enrolment will not be confirmed until the selection process has been run. Selection is conducted on a random basis with outcomes communicated to students shortly after re-enrolment closes. Please refer to the Melbourne Law School website for more information on the JD Quota Elective selection process.

Further information

  • Texts

    Prescribed texts

    • James C Hathaway and Michelle Foster, The Law of Refugee Status, Second Edition (CUP, 2014);
    • Specialist printed materials will also be made available from the Melbourne Law School.
  • Available to Study Abroad and/or Study Exchange Students

    This subject is available to students studying at the University from eligible overseas institutions on exchange and study abroad. Students are required to satisfy any listed requirements, such as pre- and co-requisites, for enrolment in the subject.

Last updated: 11 September 2019