Neuroscience in Australian Courtrooms: Responsibility, Liability and the Capacity to Punish

25 June 2015

This event is fully booked, please email to be placed on the waitlist


Sydney Neurolaw Workshop

This first Sydney Neurolaw event will focus on how new understandings of the brain and mind from the developing neuroscience impact legal concepts such as responsibility and capacity, and what it means if we can show that legal decision making itself is constrained by judges' neurobiology. Four speakers across neuroscience, philosophy and law will address various aspects of these questions, and will be engaged in discussion by an interdisciplinary panel of specialist commentators and audience members.


Professor Max Bennett, Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney

Max Bennett is an author and Professor of Neuroscience in the University of Sydney, Scientific Director of the Brain & Mind Research Institute and holds the first University Chairs awarded for research 'recognized internationally as of exceptional distinction'. His most recent books are The Idea of Consciousness, History of the Synapse, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, Neuroscience & Philosophy: Brain, Mind & Language, and History of Cognitive Neuroscience. He is the founder of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, and the International Society for Autonomic Neuroscience.

Professor Bennett will be presenting a "primer on neuroscience for lawyers" - with a tour of new brain imaging techonologies, and comment on the promise and pitfalls of using neuroscience to answer legal questions in particular cases.

Discussants: Sascha Callaghan, Sydney Law School. Miiko Kumar, NSW Bar & Sydney Law School

Professor Nicole Vincent, Georgia State University

Nicole A Vincent is an Associate Professor of law, neuroscience and philosophy at Georgia State University and a leading international researcher in neurolaw. She has led a number of inter-disciplinary collaborations looking at neuroscience impacts on legal notions of responsibility and on the ethics of "neuro-enhancement". Her projects include "Enhancing Responsibility: The Effects of Cognitive Enhancement on Moral and Legal Responsibility" based in Delft, The Netherlands and at Oxford, UK.

In this Workshop session, Nicole asks, when we uncover the brain based correlates of psychopaths' flattened affect, impulsiveness, or other similar traits - do we have evidence of impaired mental capacities or character flaws? And is this therefore exculpatory or aggravating evidence?

Discussants: Neil Levy, Deputy Director (Research), Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, and Head of Neuroethics at the Florey Neuroscience Institutes, University of Melbourne. Matthew Large, Medical Superintendent, Psychiatric Unit, Prince of Wales Hospital

Dr Karen O'Connell, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Karen O'Connell is co-convenor of the Biotechnologies of the Body Research Group, a member of the Discrimination Law Experts Roundtable, and as an adviser on projects for the Intellectual Disability Rights Service and the Australian Human Rights Commission. She has won numerous academic awards and scholarships, including the Audrey Harrisson Fellowship from the Australian Federation of University Women and the Finkelstein Fellowship from Columbia Law School and is an international leader in researching intersections between neuroscience, law and discrimination.

Karen will be discussing her recent work on law, neuroscience and the badly behaved child. She asks: At a time when brain-based explanations of behaviour are proliferating, how will law respond to the badly behaved child?

Discussants: Andrew Ellis, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Justice Health NSW. Professor Robert van Krieken, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney.

Dr Michael Sevel, Sydney Law School

Michael Sevel is a Lecturer in Jurisprudence and an Associate of the Sydney Centre for International Law. He was previously Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Miami School of Law, and Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Law of the European University Institute. He researches issues in general jurisprudence, the rule of law, and moral and political philosophy. In 2015-2016, he will be a Visiting Research Professor at the Center for Ethics and Public Affairs in the Murphy Institute at Tulane University. He is currently writing the first comprehensive treatment of the moral, legal, and political philosophy of Joseph Raz, for Oxford University Press.

Dr Sevel will be discussing the account of free will proposed by philosopher and former New South Wales Supreme Court Justice, David Hodgson, extending this account to judicial decision-making. In this presentation, Dr Sevel grapples with the question "Are judges themselves free to decide the guilt or innocence of an accused?"

Discussants: Kate Rossmanith, Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University. Allan McCay, Foundations Program, University of Sydney.

Time: 2-5pm (registration from 1.30pm)

Location: New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Cost: This event is fully booked

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 3c3034012245200f313e0b0a29322414011657133b7e2030