Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Lecturer in Criminology, Deakin University, writes:

I have been incredibly fortunate over the last three months to be based as a visiting academic at the Oxford Centre for Criminology. The Centre is a vibrant research environment that is home to a range of senior and early career academics, as well a dynamic cohort of postgraduate candidates.

As an early career researcher examining legal responses to lethal violence and the unintended consequences of homicide law reform, the opportunity to base myself at the Centre for three months of undisturbed research activity has been somewhat of a dream. In 2010 I spent six weeks in England collecting interview data as part of my doctorate, and I have relished the opportunity to return and reconsider what Australia can learn from the recent operation and reform of homicide law in England and Wales, or indeed what lessons may be valuable to the English context.

Intellectually I cannot speak highly enough of my time at the Centre. In particular, I have valued the Centre’s ongoing seminar series – both the formal ‘All Souls Seminar Series’ as well as the more informal ‘Brown Bag’ seminars. The level of engagement and discussion between colleagues about each other’s research is enviable and undoubtedly a reflection of the calibre of those presenting, the engagement of everyone in the room and the vibrancy of these regular seminars.

Having come to Oxford with a reasonably set plan on what I would work on over my three months, I now feel I am returning home with in excess of two years work to get onto it! At present, my research is predominately focused on comparative analyses of homicide law reform and its unintended consequences in Australia and the UK. There are many parallels in the challenges facing the operation of homicide law across these two countries, and indeed similarities in the political debates arising from the law’s operation. Interestingly, however, law reform and legislative responses to current challenges and debates have varied both within and across Australia and the UK. The last three months has offered me the opportunity to immerse myself in the English component of this research and to better understand the effects of divergent legal responses to lethal violence in the UK.

During my time at the Centre, I have also become acutely aware of debate surrounding sentencing legislation in this jurisdiction, particularly in relation to life sentence. I have often found myself walking home from the Centre contemplating how these debates translate to the Australian context. This is a question I am looking forward to pursuing in more detail on my return. The opportunity to hear Dirk Van Zyl Smit, Nicola Padfield and Marion Vannier deliver seminars on the topic of life sentences during my visit has inspired and informed my thinking in this area and undoubtedly motivated my desire to consider the viability of life sentences in the Australian context.

The openness of all members of the Centre to engage me in conversation over the last three months has certainly enriched my experience beyond what I had expected. The informal conversations over lunch or a coffee have been incredibly thought provoking and I am grateful to all at the Centre for making me feel so welcome.

In particular I would like to thank the Centre Director, Carolyn Hoyle, for extending the invitation for my visit and to Sarah Parkin for all her help in the lead up to and during my time at the Centre. I am also very grateful to Julian Roberts for his support and for organising my seminar presentation, and to Andrew Ashworth for his interest in, and support of, my research during my visit.

While I fly back to Australia tonight, I am already opening the diary to contemplate when I may be able to squeeze in a return trip!