Esteemed professor retires after 19 years of service

19 January 2021
Emeritus Professor Helen Irving retires after 19 years of service at Sydney Law School
Professor Helen Irving retired from the University of Sydney on 31 December 2020 after 19 years of service at Sydney Law School, including 11 years of that time as a Professor.

Professor Helen Irving commenced 2021 as an esteemed Emeritus Professor. 

Emeritus Professor Helen Irving’s time at Sydney Law School

Commencing at the Law School in 2001, Emeritus Professor Irving was appointed Professor in 2009, and since that time has excelled in her service to the university in leadership, research and teaching. 

Service and Leadership

Emeritus Professor Helen Irving

Emeritus Professor Irving’s status in the academic community has been recognised by her fellowship of three academies:

  • Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia: elected 2013
  • Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law: elected 2014
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales: elected 2015.

Emeritus Professor Irving was an active mentor to her fellow constitutional law scholars, and regularly reviewed articles, promotion applications and ARC Grant applications.

Emeritus Professor Irving will continue this vitally important role during post-retirement.

She was also recognised more broadly in the community for her service to constitutional law and history. In 2001, she was a Finalist for the NSW Premier’s Centenary History Award, and in 2003 Emeritus Professor Irving received the Commonwealth of Australia, Centenary Medal.

Between 1997 and 2013, she served as a member of the Advisory Council of the National Archives of Australia.

She has been an expert witness for various Commonwealth Parliament committees, and recently became a Member on the Advisory Council, Museum of Democracy, “Democracy DNA” exhibition.


Emeritus Professor Irving was a valued and long-serving member of the constitutional law teaching team. Her contribution to teaching was recognised by the Faculty of Law in 2012 when she received a ‘Faculty of Law Award for Excellence in Teaching’. This is a significant award, based on student and peer recognition, within a community of teachers that is consistently amongst the strongest in this university.


Emeritus Professor Irving brought an interdisciplinary approach to the study of constitutional law, combining an historical perspective with an examination of the political and social context of Australian constitutional law and citizenship.

Emeritus Professor Irving’s work contributed to an understanding of the law in context, including an examination of doctrinal law against its social and cultural background. She has published on history and constitutional interpretation in the United States (where the subject is a major scholarly and juristic issue), as well as in Australia.

She is a distinguished scholar of high standing internationally, as recognised through her membership of the three learned academies identified above.

Over the course of her career, Emeritus Professor Irving obtained four ARC Discovery Grants and before that, one ARC Large Grant under the older scheme. She also published five substantive monographs, seven edited collections, and numerous peer refereed articles and book chapters. 

Both in quantitative and qualitative terms these are, in my experience, quite simply extraordinary achievements, particularly for a scholar working in law, where national competitive funding, relative to other disciplines, has been much harder to secure (a situation which is regularly acknowledged by the Council of Australian Law Deans).
Dean and Head of Sydney Law School, Professor Simon Bronitt

Emeritus Professor Irving’s international standing is evidenced by the various visiting positions she held at overseas universities including Hong Kong (2004), and the London School of Economics (2009). She held the distinguished Fernaund Braudel Senior Fellowship at the European University Institute in 2015 and was also appointed the Harvard Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard Law School in 2005-2006.

The impact of Emeritus Professor Irving’s work outside of academia is also significant.

In 2003 she co-authored a report (with Professor Vivien Hart) on gender equality and constitution-making for Iraq, by invitation of United Nations Development Program (UNDP). She contributed by invitation to UNWomen workshops on women and constitutional design in New York (2015) and Santiago (2016), the latter as a joint UNWomen and Chilean government initiative on Chilean constitutional reform. She has also advised international organisations on constitutional design and gender equality, including on the development of a practical guide to constitution-making for women in countries embarking on constitutional reform. She has written more than 50 opinion pieces for newspapers and journals on constitutional history and citizenship, in particular during the years leading to the centenary of federation, the republic debate, and the debate on the proposed adoption of a national Human Rights Act, and most recently on citizenship.

A complete list of Emeritus Professor Irving's publications can be found here.


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