Life after graduate research: Dr Anna Dziedzic


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In her PhD, Dr Anna Dziedzic explored the impact of foreign judges in Pacific Island states. Whereas other studies had focused on their use in the development of law, she considered their appointment and use in courts. Anna is now researching the use of foreign judges in Hong Kong and more broadly across the world.

Meet the researcher

In what area of research was your PhD?

Comparative constitutional law—specifically, the use of foreign judges within courts in Pacific Island states.

What do you mean by ‘comparative’ constitutional law?

In ‘comparative’ constitutional law, we’re comparing bodies of law belonging to different nations. Constitutional law varies from country to country. But the shared purpose is to define the role, powers and structure of government entities within a state. For example, the parliament and judiciary and the basic rights of citizens. By comparing how different constitutions work, we see what is similar and different between them and try to understand the reasons for this.

What were you trying to discover through your PhD?

Across the world, judges are usually citizens of the country that they’re working in. But in Pacific Island states, such as Fiji and Vanuatu, foreign judges are common. I was curious to understand how that works and what impact it has. For example, does that affect the way judges decide cases? Or how they represent the people of that region?

There had been studies on the impact of foreign judges on the development of Pacific law. But there were none that examined the judges themselves, how they’re appointed and how they work in practice. After understanding this, I could examine things like the effect that the use of foreign judges has on the independence of courts, or the role of the judiciary. This was the gap I was trying to fill.

What were the main findings, outcomes and/or outputs of your PhD?

As usual, I produced a thesis, but I am hoping to also write a book on the subject. I started with a desire to create a set of recommendations that could be used by Pacific Island states to create change. But as I progressed, I thought it better to focus on really understanding the issues and then articulating my observations.

I felt that Pacific courts and the aid agencies and international organisations that support foreign judges could then use my analysis to inform their decisions. And naturally other scholars could also build on the work. If Pacific countries want to move to a more localised model in as far as judges go, or if they want to examine what they’re doing, these findings could be useful. I interviewed a lot of judges as part of the project and some expressed interest in the research findings too.

University of Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies

How did you end up doing a PhD? Were you working or studying prior to your PhD?

I started my career working in legal policy, for the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Law Reform Commission, which I really enjoyed. But after a couple of years working in government I realised I wanted to do something more creative. I wanted to think deeply and to do research of my own.

So, I started with a masters degree at University College London, after which I was offered a job at the Melbourne Law School. I worked as a research fellow there for three years within the area of comparative constitutional law. The professor I worked for ended up becoming my PhD supervisor.

Between my masters and PhD, I volunteered in Samoa, working within their Law Reform Commission. And I thought the way that constitutional law was working there was amazing. It is a unique constitutional system that incorporates customary law. I was interested in how well it seemed to work, and how different it was to Australia. I wanted to explore that. This led me to my interest in Pacific constitutions and my PhD topic.

Why did you choose to do your PhD at the University of Melbourne?

I already had a good relationship with the Melbourne Law School, having worked there, and I knew it was the best place for me to do my PhD. The Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies was well established when I started working as a research fellow. Since then, the Centre has attracted many more leading and emerging scholars in the field. It is a vibrant intellectual community.

What was the best part about your research here at the University?

The people within the Centre were genuinely interested in the work I was doing. And they were keen to help me find scholars and lawyers to work with. So, I found the network I needed quickly, including relevant scholars outside of the university. Through these connections I was able to secure funding to travel to New Zealand and the Pacific for my research. And to the University of Copenhagen to do a visiting fellowship there. For five weeks I could just focus on writing my PhD.

During my research, I also had the chance to consult to states and organisations involved in constitution making (mainly in the Pacific). And I continue this today. For example, I wrote a report for International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) on how constitutions can be implemented to promote women and gender equality.

How has your PhD shaped your current work situation?

I’m conducting post-doctoral research in Hong Kong. I have a two-year research position at Hong Kong University, within the Faculty of Law. I’m continuing my research on foreign judges, as Hong Kong uses them too and they’re interested in this topic. I’m examining the use of foreign judges in this region, but also in other countries across the world.

What do you hope can be done with the work you’ve completed?

The Pacific is an understudied region in comparative constitutional law. The constitutional insights that can been found are not really on people’s radars. So, I’d like to see more attention be given to the region generally. And importantly, in a way that promotes the work of Pacific Islander peoples themselves. I think Australia could learn something from how constitutional law works in Pacific Island states.

First published on 16 February 2022.

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