School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Peter Atudiwe Atupare

Ph.D Law, Queen's 2011

Queen's first PhD in Law

Peter Atupare

Peter Atudiwe Atupare - Queen's first PhD in Law

by Meredith Dault

May 04, 2011

Peter Atudiwe Atupare always knew he wanted to go to law school. But after earning a law degree (LLB) in his native Ghana, he knew it wasn’t enough. “It’s like any other first degree,” he says with a smile. “It may not be enough to develop an advanced understanding of the issues and topics in law.” So Atupare came to Queen’s intent on earning a Master’s degree in law -- but he didn’t stop there. In April 2011, he made history, becoming the first person to earn a PhD in law from Queen’s.

Atupare admits his decision to come to Kingston was made quickly. He was wrapping up a year-long Master’s degree (in Political Science) at Brock University (“I was encouraged by my friends to diversify my knowledge,” he laughs) when he came upon a couple of articles written by Dr. Mark Walters, a professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s. “I was impressed by his research questions,” says Atupare, “and I thought I would apply to Queen’s and see what happens. Fortunately for me, I was admitted!”

It was Dr. Walters who eventually became Atupare’s supervisor - initially on the examining committee of his Master’s degree, and eventually for his PhD. Drawn to legal theory, Atupare focused his research in public law and public law subjects, addressing questions like how the Supreme Court decides cases, how human rights are guaranteed, and to what extent judicial review is important in our current democracy.

“My argument is that beneath any written constitution or law, is an unwritten constitution, or an unwritten version of law which must be enforced for the well-being of the people,” he explains. “My suggestion is that to focus strictly on the written law, particularly with transitional regimes where constitution-making itself was flawed, will amount to excluding values that are essential for the well-being of the people.”

Atupare always knew he would be heading back to Ghana at the end of his degree.  “I could have stayed in Canada and could have tried to write articles and hope that people in Ghana would read them,” he says, on the day before his departure. “But one of the reasons for going into the doctoral program was to acquire advanced knowledge in law, on the account that I can influence, at least in a positive way some changes in our society.”

When he returns to Ghana, Atupare has his sights set on undertaking research and teaching, ideally in a university setting. He’ll be going home with warm memories from his time at Queen’s.

“Queen’s, for me, is the best place for any international student,” he says thoughtfully. “It’s a medium-sized university yet well reputed, so it’s the most congenial academic environment for lecturer-student relationships, as compared to larger universities where the (professor to student) ratio is higher. Mentorship, for instance,  can become a problem in such large universities, and when it’s a problem, you aren’t in the best position to acquire all that is necessary for you to advance your career.”

Atupare says he’s enjoyed the family-like atmosphere of the law school, and speaks warmly of his relationship to both faculty and the other students. “They are concerned about your well-being,” he says, “it’s been quite a touching experience. And my supervisor has been wonderful. He is an outstanding scholar and mentor.”

He has also appreciated the international make-up of his program. “In Ghana, the background of the class is likely to be homogeneous,” Atupare explains. By contrast, he says his classmates at Queen’s have been from other countries such as Canada, Britain, America, Argentina, Uganda and Nigeria. “It’s been quite refreshing to have those guys with different backgrounds in the same program. It broadens your horizons as to how you confront legal issues, because we bring different issues and perspectives to bear on legal reasoning. At the end of it all, you synthesize all these different views, whereas in your own country it is very likely to be a monologue.”

As he prepares to leave the campus that has been home for the last four years, Atupare   says he feels ready for whatever comes next. “I feel good that I am going back to Ghana finally, and I am not going back empty handed. My mission was to earn my degrees, and I am happy that I have ideas that will be useful when I get back home.”

After the gift of education (he now has five university degrees!), Atupare says he is ready to share his knowledge and make real contributions to his country. “Like any responsible person, it’s time for me to give back. My clients are the Ghanian people.”

Peter with colleagues during his LLMPeter with fellow student Angela Fellow

(Peter above with fellow students and colleagues in the faculty lounge)

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