LAWS6839 - Critical Issues in Public Health Law

This unit provides an introduction to key topics in public health law, and a foundation for further study in this field. It begins by exploring the use of law - both historically and conceptually - as a tool for protecting the public's health, for responding to health risks and implementing strategies designed to promote public health.

It reviews the sources of public health law, considers the strategies that law can deploy to protect and promote health, as well as debates about the appropriate limits for law in the protection of public health in a liberal democracy.

The unit also provides a review of the law's role within several critical areas, including: acute public health threats (with a focus on SARS, pandemic influenza, and bioterrorism); sexual health and STIs; and tobacco control.

Key topics include:

  • The definition and role of public health law;
  • Case studies illustrating the sources of public health law;
  • The legal framework for managing pandemic influenza and other acute public health threats;
  • An introduction to tobacco control law;
  • and Law's role in promoting sexual health

Throughout the unit, students will be trained to identify legal issues and to explore their health significance, or impact on population health. Students will be encouraged and expected to critically evaluate the success of public health laws and their underlying strategies for protecting and promoting health.

Students will also explore the tension between the public health interest, and competing public and private interests. Students wishing to extend their knowledge of public health law can enrol in the companion unit, LAWS6848 Law & Healthy Lifestyles. These units comprise a core program in public health law.


Semester 2 Intensive
- 4 August 2014 (Introduction 6:00PM-8:00PM)
- 6-8 & 28 August 2014 (9:00AM-5:00PM)

The timetable is subject to frequent changes. Please refer to the latest version of the Postgraduate Timetable.


  • 1 X short response question (20%)
  • 1 x 6,000 word essay (80%)


  • 1 x short response question (20%)
  • 1 x 3,000-3,500 word essay (40%)
  • 1 x take-home exam question (40%)


  • 1 X short response question (20%)
  • 2 X 3000-3,500 word essays (80%)


Lawrence O. Gostin, Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint, University of California Press, 2nd ed, 2008 [US focus]

Christopher Reynolds, Public and Environmental Health Law, Federation Press, 2011 [Australia focus]

Please note: this unit is compulsory for Graduate Diploma in Public Health Law (GradDipPubHL) students. Master of Health Law (MHL) students may select this unit as one of the three compulsory units required in addition to LAWS6252 or LAWS6881.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

You can credit this unit towards Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Units of study that are part of Sydney Law School’s Postgraduate Program meet the necessary Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) of the Law Society of New South Wales and the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements of the New South Wales Bar Association. You may complete this unit of study by enrolling on a non-degree basis or on an audit basis only with no assessment via Single Unit Study.

Courses this unit is available in

Master of Laws | Graduate Diploma in Law | Master of Global Law | Master of Health Law | Graduate Diploma in Health Law | Graduate Diploma in Public Health Law