Professor Heather Douglas

IAS Fellow at Collingwood College, Durham University (January – March 2016)

Heather Douglas is a Professor of Law at Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, Australia. Professor Douglas researches broadly in the criminal justice field. She has particular interests in the relationship between Indigenous people and the criminal law and the way the criminal law impacts on and constructs women.

Professor Douglas has been a visiting scholar at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Oxford; the Law School at Victoria University, Canada; The Melbourne Law School, Melbourne University, Australia and the Violence Research and Prevention program at Griffith University, Australia. She has been a commissioner with the Queensland Law Reform Commission and is on a number of Advisory Boards of non-government domestic violence service organisations. She is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Law.

While a practicing lawyer she worked at Indigenous legal services in remote Australia. This experience instilled an interest in the criminal law’s response to Indigenous people. She undertook her PhD in crime and Indigenous people and has since published widely in this area. Her book Indigenous Crime and Settler Law: White Sovereignty After Empire (with Mark Finnane, published by Palgrave in 2012) examines the foundations of criminal law’s response to the victimization of one Indigenous person by another. The book demonstrates how criminal law is consistently framed as the key test of sovereignty, whatever the challenges faced in effecting its jurisdiction.

Her ongoing work includes critiquing both criminal and civil legal responses to domestic violence and child protection. Her research in these areas has made a significant contribution to law reform. In 2014 she was awarded an Australian Research Council Fellowship to undertake a longitudinal study examining how women of diverse backgrounds use law to help them live a life free of violence.

Other recent research has included work on the Australian Feminist Judgments Project. In 2014 Heather’s and colleagues’ edited collection – Australian Feminist Judgments: Righting and Rewriting Law – was published by Hart. This book brings together feminist academics, lawyers and activists to present a collection of alternative judgments in a series of Australian legal cases that explore the possibilities, limits and implications of a feminist approach to legal decision-making. The collection contributes a distinctly Australian perspective to the growing international literature investigating the role of feminist legal theory in judicial decision-making.

While at Durham Professor Douglas plans to write up work undertaken as part of the Australian Feminist Judgments Project. One of the enduring problems with the legal process, identified by feminist legal scholars, is the way women’s evidence of sexual violence is excluded, marginalised and disbelieved. Forty judges agreed to be interviewed as part of this project on the basis of their identification as feminists and these interviews provide an opportunity to explore the question of what difference a feminist judge might be able to make in a sexual assault case. This work dovetails in particular with work undertaken by scholars in the schools of law and applied social sciences at Durham University.