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From one of the earliest concerns of political philosophy to the subject of a treaty ratified by almost every country in the world, corruption has played a fascinating role in human affairs. Corruption’s importance as a matter of law and policy has grown in recent decades, thanks to increasing awareness of its devastating effects on development efforts, human rights, democracies, economies, and environmental protection efforts. Responding to that growing importance, this subject provides an overview of domestic, regional, and global approaches to corruption.
Although this seminar provides an overview of many aspects of anti-corruption law and policy, it covers issues of political corruption in greater depth, such as bribery of public officials, campaign and party financing, lobbying, and conflicts of interest. It also covers in greater depth several current issues in Australian anti-corruption law—including the prospects for a national anti-corruption body—and several “global pressure points”—including the effects of corruption on climate change mitigation efforts.
The domestic approaches examined in this subject include those undertaken by Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, as well as several Latin American and Asian countries. The regional approaches targeted include those sponsored by the Organization of American States, the Asian Development Bank, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Council of Europe, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Bank. Finally, at the global level, this seminar covers the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).
Entering into force in 2005 and obtaining 189 States Parties by November 2021, UNCAC has brought about a comprehensive, global approach to corruption. This subject explores the five pillars of that approach—international cooperation, preventative measures, criminalization and law enforcement measures, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange—and their relationship with domestic and regional initiatives. A major question at this stage will be UNCAC’s ability (or potential) to improve those pre-existing initiatives.
At each of its three levels of legal inquiry (domestic, regional, and global), this seminar examines questions of substantive law (what conduct is targeted), procedure (how are suspected violations of the law exposed and addressed), institutions (how is each legal framework administered and modified), and effectiveness. This subject addresses not only the merits of anti-corruption law, but the criticisms and dangers of it as well.
Although this subject relies primarily on legal analysis, it also applies perspectives and findings from the fields of economics, history, and political science. That interdisciplinarity enables the consideration of the broader questions that inform anti-corruption law. Those questions include: How are definitions and patterns of corruption changing over time? What effects does corruption have on development, businesses, local economies, and global capitalism? What effects does it have on human rights, democratization, elections, and lawmaking? What lessons have been learned about the effectiveness of different legal approaches to corruption? How could domestic, regional, and international anti-corruption initiatives be improved?
Principal topics include:
- What is corruption? How is corruption defined by different legal regimes?
- How does corruption manifest in distinct environments, including campaign and party finance, elections, lawmaking, law enforcement, government procurement, business, international development and climate change mitigation efforts, and banking and finance? What are corruption’s economic, political, and social effects?
- What are the regulatory challenges involved in preventing, exposing, and punishing corruption in its distinct environments? To what extent have domestic, regional, and international legal regimes been successful in meeting those challenges?
- How could those laws and institutions be improved? In particular, what are the main successes and shortcomings of the UN system for preventing and combating corruption? What are its prospects for improvement?
- What are the different roles that lawyers play in addressing corruption? What skill sets do they employ?
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject should have developed and demonstrated:
- A sophisticated awareness of the effects and challenges that corruption poses for contemporary concerns over poverty and development, environmental protection, human rights, capitalism, and democracy
- An integrated understanding of anti-corruption law at regional and global levels, including key questions of substantive law, institutional design and international collaboration
- An advanced ability to assess the strengths and limitations of such bodies of law and institutions—including ones that the student has not encountered before
- Specialised knowledge of the roles lawyers play in all of the above—including some initial experience applying the legal standards and navigating the legal institutions that seek to prevent and punish corruption-related offenses.
Last updated: 10 November 2023