Just Culture or just culture? A cautionary tale

Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 31 May 2011


ANU Canberra


Jonathan Aleck


RegNet Events team

‘Just Culture’ is a term and a concept widely, if variably, used and understood generally to describe an organisational environment in which individuals are encouraged to disclose instances of their own or others’ errors and mistakes, without fearing a punitive or disciplinary response, and with a view to providing a basis on which the likelihood of similar errors and mistakes occurring in the future can be reduced.

The objective is a noble one, intended to make the conduct of otherwise beneficial activities involving unavoidable risks of harm, damage, injury or death safer, by fostering a learning environment in which information about inadvertent shortcomings and deficiencies (‘honest mistakes’) are shared openly, free from apprehension of the consequences of fault or blame for ‘wrongdoing’, but without necessarily minimising or eliminating accountability for one’s acts or omissions.

Like other elegantly simple and seemly self-evident ideas whose time has come, ‘just culture’ has attracted a large, supportive and remarkably uncritical following. Its utility has won the virtually unequivocal approbation of a growing number of professionals in the energy and resources, medical, and transportation sectors, amongst other spheres of activity, including those of law and politics.Without delving deeply into arcane and sometimes dauntingly complex theoretical arguments, ‘justice’ and ‘culture’ can fairly be seen as contested concepts, readily subject to tendentious and disingenuous deployment.

Caution is good counsel, from a practical and intellectual perspective alike, and it is in that light that this seminar will consider some real and telling examples of the risks an undiscriminating embrace of ‘just culture’ may entail for the very objectives many of its proponents so enthusiastically endorse.

About the speaker

Jonathan Aleck is Associate Director of Aviation Safety of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). He previously served as Chief Legal Officer and Executive Manager of CASA’s Legal Services Division.From September 1998 to August 2003, Dr Aleck served as the Representative of Australia on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montréal. Immediately prior to his appointment to the ICAO Council, he served as General Manager of CASA’s Aviation Safety Compliance Division, and before that as Regional Manager of the Authority’s West Region.Before and since arriving in Australia in 1988, Dr Aleck has combined a professional and academic career as a lawyer, a legal consultant and a university lecturer.

He has taught law and politics at the Australian National University (in both the Faculty of Law and the Public Policy Programme), the University of Canberra, the University of Hawaii and the University of Oregon in the United States, and the University of Papua New Guinea. During his tenure on the ICAO Council he was a Visiting Lecturer in the Institute of Air and Space Law (Faculty of Law) at McGill University in Montreal. He currently serves as a Vice-President on the National Executive Council of the Australian Institute of Administrative Law.

Dr Aleck earned his law degree (JD) at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a Master of Arts degree in political science from the University of Oregon, and a Doctorate of Philosophy in law from the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet