School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Cristóbal Caviedes 

PhD candidate in Law


Cristóbal Caviedes – Understanding and Challenging the Familiar

by Anthony Pugh

September, 2016

“It is important to critically analyze the foundations of political institutions” asserts Cristóbal Caviedes, a PhD student in law and a person who wants to understand and challenge the basic rules that structure democratic societies. Originally from Santiago, Chile, Caviedes has Master’s degrees in law from the University of Chile and University College London (UCL). His main area of interest is administrative regulation and its impact on institutional development.

Challenging a key principle of most constitutional courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada – the decision-making rule of majority voting – is the topic of his thesis. “The vast majority of courts use majority voting; only some use other methods like unanimity,” he says. “Not all of them publish the dissents or the vote. In some countries you do not know who the judges are who signed the opinion but the decision-making rule is usually majority voting even in those cases. I’m basically questioning the fact that all courts use majority voting, is it adequately justified or not and are there better alternatives.”

 “Sometimes we follow a certain inertia and do not call into question what is familiar to us,” Caviedes states as he describes his project’s importance. “Institutional development is crucial for developing countries like mine. Shedding light on political institutions is important because it can provide a basis for changing those institutions if the foundations are not well grounded.”

Supervising this project is Professor Grégoire Webber, the Canada Research Chair in Public Law and Philosophy of Law. Caviedes first became acquainted with Webber’s literature while studying at UCL. He contacted Webber to discuss his proposal and found that he was eager about the idea so he decided to come to Queen’s. Caviedes describes Webber as attentive and focused. “It has been great working with him so far. He is good at establishing deadlines and gives very good suggestions about how to proceed with the research. He wants you to develop the best project you can.” This year Webber is on leave working for the federal government so Professor Jean Thomas, also an expert in the philosophy of law, will be working with Caviedes.

On his time so far at Queen’s, Caviedes says “I have enjoyed living in Canada, it is a great place to live and I have been marvellously received. I also like that the PhD group I relate to here is very supportive.” Outside of his studies he regularly frequents the gym and local arts centres, including the Isabel Bader Centre.