LAWENVIR 729 - Comparative Environmental Law

This course looks at a key player in environmental law in common law jurisdictions - courts.

Lecturer biography

Liz Fisher, BA/LLB (UNSW), D Phil (Oxon) is Professor of Environmental Law at Corpus Christi College and the Faculty of Law. She researches in the areas of environmental law and administrative law. Much of her work has explored the interrelationship between law, administration and regulatory problems in different national jurisdictions. Her 2007 book, Risk Regulation and Administrative Constitutionalism, won the SLS Peter Birks Prize for Outstanding Legal Scholarship 2008. She is leading co-author of Fisher, Lange and Scotford, Environmental Law: Text, Cases and Materials (OUP 2013) and has written many articles in the area of environmental law. She won an Oxford University Teaching Award in 2009 and was shortlisted for OUP National Law Teacher of the Year Award 2011. She is currently General Editor of the Journal of Environmental Law.

Course outline

This course is a study of environmental law from a comparative perspective, with a primary focus on common law and EU law jurisdictions. Environmental law is now an important structural feature of the regulatory environment of most jurisdictions and affects many aspects of business and legal practice.

This course explores how different regimes adjust and/or reconfigure understandings of administration and markets. In this course we look at the development of environmental law and how it has been a response to particular sorts of complex problems. We focus on some of the most high profile and distinctive features of environmental law, each case study shining light on key actors and concepts in environmental law; environmental principles (courts), emission trading schemes (markets and property), chemicals regulation (markets and trade), and environmental impact assessment/nature conservation (the public and scientists). This course will be of interest to those who want to deepen their knowledge of environmental law, as well as those who want to understand how environmental law affects market and business practices both within and between jurisdictions.


The course covers the following:

  • An introduction to environmental law, its basic legal features and how these features are a response to the polycentricity, scientific uncertainty, and socio-political conflict
  • An overview of the multi-level nature of environmental law and the basic principles of comparative law analysis
  • An introduction to the respective roles of courts, legislatures, public administration, markets and the public in environmental law
  • A study of the use of environmental principles in Commonwealth and EU courts
  • A study of the emissions trading regimes in the US, UE and Commonwealth, and a comparison of their main legal features
  • A study of nature conservation and impact assessment schemes in the US, EU and Commonwealth
  • A study of US and EU chemicals regulation regimes

A considerable focus of the course will be on analysing legal materials including case law and legislation. There will be also reading of secondary materials.


The objective of the course is for students to develop a solid understanding of the major features of environmental law and the role of different actors in it through a study of it from a comparative perspective.

Learning outcomes

On the completion of this course students should be able to:

  • Understand the basic features of environmental law and how to approach a comparative study of those features
  • Understand the respective roles of courts, legislatures, public administration, markets and the public in environmental law
  • Understand how courts in different jurisdictions have developed environmental principles and applied those principles in specific cases
  • Understand the legal architecture of emissions trading schemes and how they have been constructed in different jurisdictions
  • Understand how environmental impact assessment and nature conservation regimes have developed and operate in different jurisdictions
  • Understand the challenges of chemicals regulation and how the US and EU have responded to those challenges


  • 90% research essay of 12,500 words
  • 10% class participation


Each student is required to submit a research essay of no more than 12,500 words including an abstract/synopsis of 500 words. The essay is to be original work, relying on secondary and primary sources. It MUST be the work of the enrolled student. Another person, other than the enrolled student, MUST NOT write the essay nor do the research on behalf of the enrolled student. Plagiarism is not permitted and in that regard each student should read the University’s plagiarism policy and adhere to it. All students will be expected to sign a plagiarism declaration when submitting their essays. Students must also use proper legal citations and include a reading list at the end of their type-written essay. The essay should be comprised of properly crafted English sentences (note form is unacceptable). The use of sub-headings is encouraged and footnotes rather than Harvard style in-text referencing are to be used.

Descriptive essays are not encouraged. Instead students are expected to engage with relevant legal issues by: critiquing the law; developing proposals for reform; examining the operation of law and policy in practice; and/or providing a conceptual analysis of the law, for example.

Class participation/presentation

Each student will be asked to prepare a brief (15 minute) answer to one of the focus questions in the Learning Guide and present this to the rest of the class. In addition, each student is expected to make individual contributions to seminar discussions. Students will be individually assessed on the quality of their contributions. Apart from exceptional circumstances, ALL students are expected to attend ALL classes.

Criteria and marking

Students will be individually assessed on the quality of their contributions with reference to the following criteria:

  • The extent to which the student has identified the important and relevant issues
  • The depth and thoroughness of understanding of the seminar materials
  • The strength and clarity of the arguments presented
  • The extent to which issues are placed in their wider context
  • The extent to which the student has displayed a grasp of the doctrinal and normative issues

Reading materials

Reading materials will be contained in the Casebook/Study Guide. Students may also be asked to access additional materials via the internet or in the Davis Law Library. ALL students are expected to read and study ALL of the assigned reading for each class.

Teaching method

The course will be taught over five days commencing on a Wednesday and concluding at the end of the following Tuesday. Classes will be interactive and students will need to do some pre-reading for the course so that they get the most out of the materials under discussion. Classes will commence at 9am and run till 4.30pm. Morning tea will be around 10.30am (approx. 20 minutes). We will also have a short break in the afternoon.

Classes will be interactive and discussion-based - with a high level of participation expected from ALL students.

Course details


Room 340
Level 3
Building 810
1-11 Short Street


Semester: Two
Study mode: Intensive - 30 points
Dates: Semester Two: 26th October - 1st November
Time: 9am-5pm
Assignment due date: Thursday 12th January 2017, 12 noon

Contact details

Law Student Centre
Level 2, 1-11 Short St