Professor Vanessa MacDonnell co-leads major $1.7 million international project on constitutional law

Faculty of Law - Common Law Section

By Common Law

Communication, Faculty of Law

Vanessa MacDonnell Charter of Rights and Freedoms
While a country’s written constitution is commonly understood as its most important rule book, a close look at many constitutional democracies around the world shows that no constitution has all of its rules written down. The fact that many norms and principles associated with constitutional orders are unwritten is a critical issue for constitutional scholarship, not to mention the courts that are called upon to interpret constitutional law.

Along with colleagues in the United Kingdom and Germany, Professor Vanessa MacDonnell from the Faculty of Law – Common Law Section at the University of Ottawa is leading a 1.7 million dollar international, interdisciplinary project, entitled “Unwritten Constitutional Norms and Principles: A Comparative Study”, which will examine the phenomenon of unwritten constitutionalism from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective. The project will examine three jurisdictions: Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, countries that have each recently dealt with institutional and political questions about the scope of their constitutions and the role of courts in the enforcement of constitutional principles. By comparing each nation’s approach to unwritten constitutional norms and principles, the researchers will explore common issues faced by all constitutional orders, identify the factors that influence the recognition, definition and enforcement of unwritten constitutional rules, and investigate the role of judicial enforcement of a constitution’s unwritten rules in an era of democratic backsliding.

The project is funded by Open Research Area (ORA) 7, a special agreement for social sciences research between the French National Research Agency (ANR), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) of Germany; the Economic and Social Research Council of UK Research and Innovation (ESRC) from the UK, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in Canada. The goal of the agreement is to fund high-quality international research that strengthens co-operation across borders amongst researchers coming from at least three of the four subscribing countries.

“We are very pleased that the Open Research Area program has recognized the excellent quality of Professor Vanessa MacDonnell's work, as well as the importance of her research collaborations on the international scene, particularly in this era when certain democracies are being undermined,” says Sylvain Charbonneau, Vice-President, Research and Innovation, at the University of Ottawa. “This is another concrete example of the excellence, relevance and impact of the research being undertaken at the University of Ottawa, not to mention our desire to promote fairer societies.”

Professor MacDonnell leads the Canadian branch of this comparative study, which also includes Professors Marie-France Fortin and Peter Oliver of the Faculty of Law’s Civil Law Section. The Canadian research team will receive $399,787 from SSHRC, while the German and UK teams will receive amounts from their respective national funding agencies. Professor Se-shauna Wheatle of Durham University leads the project’s UK team, and the project’s German team is led by Professor Florian Meinel of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. Professors MacDonnell and Wheatle previously organized an international workshop on unwritten constitutional norms and principles in 2019.

Congratulations to Professor MacDonnell and her team as they embark on this exciting new project!