Human interaction between psychology and the law has always fascinated me.
When Professor Mark Nolan SFHEA first arrived in Canberra as a teenager in 1990, he never imagined it would mark the start of a 30-plus-year relationship at The Australian National University (ANU).
His achievements at ANU go far beyond the many degrees – BSc (Hons)/LLB, MAsPacSt, PhD – to his name. An interdisciplinary scholar, he’s taught students, psychologists, defence force personnel, prisoners and judicial officials, convened interdisciplinary courses, supervised PhD candidates and led international research exchanges.
Moreover, his scholarship can be read in textbooks, chapters and journal articles covering research interests spanning citizenship law, criminal law and procedure, counter-terrorism law, human rights law, military law, Asian studies, social and community psychology, and more.
Now, he has commenced a new role as director at Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) Centre for Law and Justice where he will bring his vast expertise to a new generation of lawyers, criminal justice scholars, police and security professionals.
Professor Mark Nolan talks with visiting Indonesian security officials at the ANU College of Law on 3 December 2019.
Early days at ANU
Originally from Kempsey, NSW, Professor Nolan developed a love for law and science early into his studies, although he admits his decision to major in psychology came “on a bit of a whim”.
“I really enjoyed science. I thought I’d be a biochemist, but I was no good in the lab; I’d break glassware and am also colour blind, which didn’t help,” he recalled.
“In the end, I settled on psychology because I thought it would be interesting. I loved it. I loved law. I loved Burgmann College. And I loved Canberra.”
His interest in law was nurtured by many academics who would become friends and eventually colleagues. These included Professors David Hambly, Fiona Wheeler, Simon Bronitt, Desmond Manderson, Jim Davis, Geoff Lindell, Ian Holloway, John Seymour, Peta Spender and the late Michael Coper, whom he fondly remembers once concluded a constitutional law tutorial with a numbered 17-point summary of Cole v Whitfield in a way perhaps only Michael could.
“We’d often have staff nights when I was at Burgmann College, where ANU Law faculty members would come to dinner. Just watching people like (Professor) Nick Seddon and other academics talk to each other about law was fascinating,” Professor Nolan recalled.
Another influential teacher was Professor Phillipa Weeks, who started labour law lectures by asking students to share their own experiences at work in order to engage with the subject.
Away from classes, Professor Nolan was active in ANU Law Revues and the ANU Debating Society alongside classmates (and future colleagues) Daniel Stewart and Graeme Blank. He also studied with future colleagues such as Associate Professor Sarah Heathcote, as well as politicians Andrew Barr and Shane Rattenbury.
Professor Mark Nolan (far right) during his Law Revue days as an undergraduate student at ANU in the early 1990s.
Committed to lifelong learning
While Professor Nolan credits many of his ANU mentors, such as ANU PhD panel members Professors Penny Oakes, John Turner, Kate Reynolds (ANU Research School of Psychology) and Robert McCorquodale (ANU College of Law) for putting him on the path to interdisciplinary scholarship, an early influential figure was Norm Couch, an ex-prisoner of war from his hometown of Kempsey.
“Norm was a family friend who survived the Thai-Burma railway and incarceration in Changi. Although his formal education was limited, he taught himself all sorts of things.
“He had a library that was so exciting and encouraged me to learn languages, relating it to his interactions with other prisoners of war. I started teaching myself Japanese and got to a reasonable level in conversation, reading and writing,” Professor Nolan added.
A portrait of Norm Couch by Professor Nolan's late father Tony (right), an accomplished painter and calligrapher.
Another language he applied himself to was Thai, which he majored in for his Master of Asian and Pacific Studies completed at ANU.
“It’s important to be a lifelong learner, especially as a legal academic. Where it’s really exciting for me is to tackle a problem where criminal law, psychology and Asian studies are all relevant to understanding the problem. When we wrote about Japan, we wrote about all three,” he said, referring to a 2004 research paper investigating jury reforms in Japan co-authored with former ANU College of Law Professor Kent Anderson, now an advisor to Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan.
In 2015, Professor Nolan co-authored Legal Psychology in Australia with CSU scholar Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty to contribute a domestic perspective on both disciplines – something that was missing from the North American-centric literature he had read as an honours student.
Being at the intersection of law and psychology has also allowed Professor Nolan to bridge gaps that sometimes form between both sides.
“The feeling I’ve always had, even today, when I’m discussing things with lawyers is that they sometimes neglect the psychological consequences of issues. Similarly, when I talk to psychologists I sometimes think they’re missing out on the legal relevance of issues,” he said.
A friend to all at the College
While looking forward to his leadership role within CSU’s “mega faculty” of Business, Justice and Behavioural Sciences, Professor Nolan noted he had learnt a lot from all three Deans he had worked with at ANU College of Law: Emeritus Professor Michael Coper (1998-2012), Professor Stephen Bottomley (2013-17), and Professor Sally Wheeler (2018-).
“Once you get to a position of leading an academic program, engaging in educational reform and finessing, you start to see the big picture of what a university does in terms of how their policy and orientation shapes the experiences for students and academics at all levels,” he said.
“We interact with each other as academics and public intellectuals and with the community, but one would hope we’re also interested, compassionately or otherwise, with the fates of people who are touched by the law. It’s the reason why human interaction between psychology and the law has always fascinated me.”
ANU College of Law scholars (l to r) Professor Asmi Wood, Associate Professor Matthew Zagor and Professor Mark Nolan at the ANU graduation ceremony in December 2016.
Fortunately for ANU, Professor Nolan will remain an honorary professor and continue to serve as a guest lecturer in future. His role as Director of the CSU Centre for Law and Justice Canberra will see him at the university’s Barton campus, with regular trips to Bathurst and Port Macquarie.
“Within the Centre it will be lawyers, criminal justice scholars, police and security professionals teaching school leavers and career professionals undertaking postgraduate study and career changes so that sort of blend is naturally fun for me as a criminal lawyer and as someone interested in criminal justice theory from a psychological perspective,” he said.