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Queen's grad student wins $100,000 scholarship

Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 2:05 PM | By John Chunn

Before joining the doctoral program at Queen’s University Faculty of Law for his third graduate degree, Cristóbal Caviedes was a public sector lawyer in his native Chile. Now the government of his homeland has awarded him a Becas Chile, a US$100,000 scholarship over three years for his research on the foundations of majority rule in constitutional courts.

Becas Chile was created by the Chilean Ministry of Education to cultivate “advanced human capital” by financing studies abroad in “institutions of excellence.” Funding will cover the remainder of Caviedes’ tuition, a monthly allowance and round-trip tickets between Canada and Chile.

The government invests in its students so that upon returning to Chile, graduates can contribute their acquired knowledge to the academic, economic, scientific, social and cultural development of the country. The scope of Caviedes’ research goes beyond those borders; it’s applicable worldwide.

“If it is true that the justifications for using simple majority rule in constitutional courts are not sufficient, maybe this opens up a space for experimenting with other solutions,” he said, explaining the rationale for his thesis. “When it comes to deciding judicial review cases, especially those concerning whether or not to invalidate a statute or a statutory provision, I am convinced that the default position should be that the statute is presumed constitutional unless a supermajority of judges agrees that the rule is not constitutional. It has to be more than 51 per cent of the judges, but it doesn’t have to be unanimous.”

His dissertation is broad and theoretical in nature, examining constitutional courts in abstract. Such a thesis exemplifies the fact that Queen’s Law encourages students to critically examine aspects of democratic legal institutions generally, and their founding principles that are often taken for granted.

Caviedes has a strong sense of civic duty, having served his country as an attorney for Desafío Levantamos Chile, the first NGO responder to the 2010 earthquake and tsunami that rocked his homeland.

Caviedes, who also received an International Ontario Graduate Scholarship last year for his work, wields masters degrees in law from the University of Chile and University College London.

He had originally wanted to complete his postgraduate in England too, but upon reading work by Queen’s professor Grégoire Webber, Canada research chair in public law and philosophy of law, he contact him about supervising his thesis and decided on Queen’s shortly thereafter.