6 credit points Unit Outline

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Law School

Legal History


6 credit points

Unit Outline

amended 11 July 2011

July 2011

Unit Coordinator: David Ritter

Email: david.ritter@greenpeace.org


All material reproduced herein has been copied in accordance with and pursuant to a statutory licence administered by Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), granted to the University of Western Australia pursuant to Part VB of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).
Copy of this material by students, except for fair dealing purposes under the Copyright Act, is prohibited. For the purposes of this fair dealing exception, students should be aware that the rule allowing copying, for fair dealing purposes, of 10% of the work, or one chapter/article, applies to the original work from which the excerpt in this course material was taken, and not to the course material itself. The party of the first part shall, in this contract, be known as the party of the first part.
© The University of Western Australia 2011

Unit Description 4

Contacting the lecturer & consultation times 6

Teaching and learning responsibilities 6

Unit Structure 7



Assessment 9

General Rules, Policies and Procedures 11

Assignment Submission and Collection 12

Legal History

Law in the Quiet Continent in the

Age of Extremes

Unit Description


Welcome to Legal History. This unit was, until 2004, controlled by Matt Zilko SC, with whom it was my pleasure to co-teach in 2003 and 2004. In 05-07 it was taught as a one semester course, but was transmogrified in to an ‘intensive’ unit in 2008; a kind of ‘xtreme legal history’ or ‘legal history 2.0' (which is perhaps more befitting the times in any event).
There are, of course, many ways of teaching legal history: there are many different kinds of legal historians and a limitless array of data. This course invites an engagement with Australian legal history, adopting the focus of the broad sweep of events in the Twentieth Century and seeking to understand the way in which global trends have conditioned the development of the law in Australia. Such an approach is not to foreclose on other understandings, but to give the unit thematic coherence.
The name of this course is a play on the titles of two books: Douglas Pike’s 1962 history of Australia, The Quiet Continent, and Eric Hobsbawm’s 1994 history of the ‘short’ twentieth century, Age of Extremes. The first chapter of Hobsbawm’s work has been posted on the unit’s WebCT.
For a discussion of this course in historical context, see S. Petrow, ‘Aspects of the Teaching of Legal History in Australia from c.1890 to 2006’ delivered at the 2006 ANZLHS conference which is posted on the course website. See also M. Kirby, ‘Is Legal history Now Ancient History?’, Australian Law Journal (2009) 83(1), 31-43, which is also on the course website.

The unit will run on the dates and times set out in the schedule.

All classes will be interactive and will be a mixture of lectures and seminar style discussions and group exercises.  
Classes will not be taped.

Students will be required to speak to each other and to the lecturer. This unit requires human interaction.

Teaching and Learning Outcomes

All students who successfully complete this unit should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a broad understanding of theoretical approaches to interpreting Australian legal history and historiography;

  1. Demonstrate specific understanding of the particular debates in Australian legal history that have been the particular focus of the unit as indicated in the unit outline;

  1. Communicate effectively using concepts and ideas from the inter-disciplinary field of legal history;

  1. Express legal-historical arguments coherently, sceptically and logically;

  1. Read legal history source materials critically, as historical evidence;

  1. Appreciate the breadth of legal history and of the potential sources for legal historical study;

  1. Apply legal historical interpretive concepts to critically and sceptically interpreting source materials;

  1. Demonstrate an appreciation of the historical, cultural and ideological contingency of law; and

  1. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the specific legal historical subject matter that has been the subject of the student’s personal research projects

Educational Principles

Legal History takes very seriously the eleven educational principles adopted by UWA. You are encouraged to:

  1. to master the subject matter, concepts and techniques of your chosen discipline – whether just law or any second (or third) disciplines to which you may be dedicated) at internationally-recognised levels and standards;

  2. to acquire the skills required to learn, and to continue through life to learn, from a variety of sources and experiences;

  3. to adapt acquired knowledge to new situations;

  4. to communicate in English clearly, concisely and logically;

  5. to acquire the skills needed to embrace rapidly-changing technologies in a global environment;

  6. to think and reason logically and creatively;

  7. to undertake problem identification, analysis and solution;

  8. to question accepted wisdom and be open to new ideas and possibilities;

  9. to acquire mature judgement and responsibility in ethical, moral, social, and practical, as well as academic matters;

  10. to work independently and in a team;

  11. to acquire cross-cultural and other competencies to take a citizenship and leadership role in the local, national or international community.

Contacting the lecturer & consultation times

Given that this is an intensive, there should be plenty of time to discuss matters with me in the course of the course and students should feel free to approach me in breaks during teaching. A number of formal consultation times are outlined in the schedule. I am also happy to make appointments at other times as may be mutually convenient. Otherwise, contacting me in person will be more difficult as I’m only back in Perth for July.

Delivery of assessment and feedback on responses will need to take place via email after the teaching of the intensive has been delivered. The email address I will check is david.ritter@greenpeace.org.

Teaching and learning responsibilities

Expected Fundamental Skills

This unit assumes that students have already developed certain basic skills. It is expected that students have an adequate command of:

English and related communication skills: students are expected to have very high English language skills and to be able to understand and follow the principles of accepted expression and style. Spelling, grammar and expression will be a factor in marking.

Research capacity and information literacy skills: work with computers, whether for word processing or for legal research, is an important aspect of studying law; students are expected to have and to further develop the relevant skills. However, if the necessary material is not a mouse-click away, students are expected to be able to find the necessary material they need through more traditional measures. Depth and appropriateness of research will be a significant factor in marking.

If you are not well prepared in any of the above areas you should make every effort to remedy the situation through undertaking additional reading and/or practice. Do not hesitate to ask for advice. The University’s Student Learning, Research and Language Skills Service offers assistance in a variety of areas, including writing skills, study skills, examination preparation skills and stress management. The service is located on the second floor of the Guild Village, south entrance/ exit and can be contacted by telephoning 6488 2423 or 6488 2258. The Law Library offers regular classes to improve legal research skills.

Charter of student rights and responsibilities [The 1968 clause]

The Charter of Student Rights and Responsibilities sets out the fundamental rights and responsibilities of students and their organisations at UWA. It recognises that excellence in teaching and learning requires students to be active participants in their educational experience. It upholds the ethos that in addition to the University's role of awarding formal academic qualifications to students, the University must strive to instil in all students independent scholarly learning, critical judgement, academic integrity and ethical sensitivity. The Charter also recognises that students are central to a dynamic university community. In doing so, the University recognises the importance of student rights, responsibilities and opinions, and encourages diversity within the student body. For the full text of the charter, please refer to http://www.secretariat.uwa.edu.au/home/policies/charter

The University of Western Australia Student Guild

The Lecturer encourages all students to join the Student Guild.
The University of Western Australia Student Guild
35 Stirling Highway
Crawley WA 6009
Phone: (+61 8) 6488 2295
Facsimile: (+61 8) 6488 1041
E-mail: enquiries@guild.uwa.edu.au
Website: http://www.guild.uwa.edu.au

Student Feedback

All units in the Faculty of Law are subject to formal feedback, but informal suggestions are also very welcome. Each year, this unit has been refined on the basis of observations and suggestions from the previous year’s class. Students have made some terrific suggestions about the course and your feedback is greatly appreciated either in person or in writing.

Unit Structure

Teaching and learning strategies

This intensive will be compromised of a mixture of lectures, films and seminar style discussions.

Lectures are intended to provide basic information to introduce each topic. Each lecture will also encourage students to engage in critical interrogation of the relevant subject matter. The lecture program will be augmented by a number of lecturers who are selected both for their expertise and their perspective. Readings and authorities will often be mentioned in lectures. The take-home exam at the end of the course will, in large part, reflect the content of one, more, some or all of the lectures and will invite thoughtful critical reflection. Lectures will not be taped and I will not be giving out lecture notes.

Seminar style discussions are intended to provide an opportunity for more intensive consideration of the subjects in question. Students will be actively encouraged to ask questions, formulate arguments and develop their varying views on the matters under discussion. The lecturer will facilitate discussion, moderating debate and drawing out lines of reasoning.

This unit features a film program, though this has been truncated to suit the intensive delivery format. The purpose of screening the films is to give every student a convenient opportunity to watch the films. The films are being studied not for aesthetic appeal or on the basis of taste, but as sources dealing with Australian legal history.

There is one assessed research essay which gives the student the opportunity to select a single topic of interest to them and to research it in some depth. Students should start thinking carefully about their main research topic as early as possible, to get the most out of the exercise. In addition students have the option of completing a formative essay to assist them in exam preparation.


Unit Website

The electronic version of this Unit Outline can be viewed here http://www.law.uwa.edu.au/students/outlines

Handouts will be available in class and then on the unit’s WebCT. A link to this Unit Outline, handouts and other material will be placed on WebCT.

The site can be accessed via – http://webct.uwa.edu.au.

For information on passwords and usage of WebCT, go to the student support site at http://students.webct.uwa.edu.au




Class content

Tues, 12 July


Late Afternoon


  1. Who are we and what is Australian Legal History?

Early Evening


  1. Watching Breaker Morant (107 minutes)

Fri, 15 July




  1. Crime, history and modernity

  2. Debates in Australian legal historiography

Late Morning


  1. Discussion 1: What sort of Legal Historian are you?




  1. Sources of legal history: Lise Summers

  2. Making the Nation and Enacting the Constitution.

Late Afternoon


  1. Discussion 2: Law and History

Tues, 19 July


Late Afternoon


  1. Discussion 3: Study the legal historian, before you study the fact

Early Evening


  1. ‘The ultima ratio of the nation’

  2. Student consultation

Thurs, 21 July


Late Afternoon


  1. Discussion 4: Getting a bit Sourcey…

Early Evening


  1. Great Depression and Secession Manqué

  2. World War Two and the war crimes legacy

Fri, 22 July




  1. ‘Great’ Judges (I) The Case of Dixon

  2. Cold War, Rolling (Julius) Stone & ‘the sixties’.

Late Morning


  1. Discussion 5: Meanings of the Communist Party Case



  1. The Joys of Judicial Biography: Sarah Burnside

  2. ‘Great’ Judges (II) The Case of Wilson: Sarah Burnside

Late Afternoon


  1. Historicising Crime in an Age of Celebrity: Toni Buti MLA and the case of the Mickelbergs (double session)

Sat, 23 July




  1. Discussion 6(a): Acting Judicial

Late Morning


  1. Discussion 6(b): Acting Judicial



  1. ‘The Dismissal’ in Australian Legal History

  2. Watching extract from The Dismissal

Late Afternoon


  1. Discussion 7: Meanings of The Dismissal

Tues, 26 July


Late Afternoon


  1. Watching Life of an Island Man (90 mins) and working out the questions

Early Evening


  1. Mabo: Lawyer as source: Greg McIntyre SC

Thurs, 28 July


Late Afternoon


  1. Mabo and history (double lecture)

Early Evening


  1. Discussion 8: History = Law? The Case of Genocide

Fri, 29 July




  1. Student consultation (double session)

Late Morning


  1. Discussion 9: Cinema and legal history



  1. When contract conquered the world

  2. The Past in the Present: use and abuse of legal history

Late Afternoon


  1. Making sense of legal history (and the exam).


Assessment Summary (subject to confirmation)



Due Date


Relationshiop to

Learning Outcomes

1. Discussions




a, c, d, e, f, g, h

2. Attendance





3. Formative Essay


31 August


c, d, e, g, i

4. Approved Research Essay





f, i

5. Research Essay


Marked with comments:

23 September

Marked without comments:

4 November **


c, d, e, g, i

6. Assignment


4 November ***


a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h

*Attendance at all classes (unless absence for medical or other unavoidable reasons) is a compulsory prerequisite to being eligible to pass the unit.

**To be clear: no comments at all will be provided on papers received after 23 September – students will get a bare mark only.

*** The assignment question will be distributed at the last lecture on Friday 29 July.

Submission Procedures

Unless otherwise arranged, all written assessment should be submitted both electronically to the lecturer by email and in hard copy to the Faculty Office, the latter in accordance with usual submission procedures.


Results in this unit are subject to the Law Faculty’s scaling policy. This policy is part of the Assessment Rules and Guidelines:



The two written exercises should be annotated in accordance with a recognised referencing system for acknowledging sources (it does not matter which one, so long as it internally consistent) and contain a bibliography. Referencing is discretionary in the take-home exam. Please check syntax within footnotes.


The Colin Everard Pollett Memorial Law Prize of $250 is awarded annually to the student with the highest mark in LAWS3314 Legal History.

Supplementary assessment

Supplementary assessment is not available in this unit except in the case of a bachelor's pass degree student who has obtained a mark of 45 to 49 and is currently enrolled in this unit, and it is the only remaining unit that the student must pass in order to complete their course.

Word and Page Limits

Where there is a word limit, the marks will be reduced by the percentage by which the word limit was exceeded. Where there is a page limit that portion of the assignment exceeding the page limit will not be marked. A page is assumed to contain roughly 400 words.

Late Submissions

Where an assignment is submitted late without an extension having been granted, a penalty of 5% per day (or part thereof) on the total available mark is to be imposed.

General Rules, Policies and Procedures

The Law School has a range of rules, policies and procedures that apply to all units unless expressly varied by the unit coordinator. They should be read in conjunction with the unit outline. The general rules, policies and procedures can be found on the Current Students webpage:

This page contains policies relating to assessment, enrolment and lectopia:
Academic dishonesty, includes the Faculty policy on misconduct




Results and progress status

Special consideration

Important Note: Academic dishonesty or misconduct includes cheating, plagiarism, falsifying results, collusion and helping someone else to commit any dishonest act. The penalties for academic dishonesty or misconduct can be severe, including exclusion from the University.
Academic dishonesty or misconduct may have to be reported to the authorities responsible for admission to the legal profession, and will be taken into account in deciding whether a person is suitable for admission as a legal practitioner.

Assignment Submission and Collection

All assignments and take home exams submitted through the Law School’s front office must have a barcoded assignment cover sheet attached to the front.
Information about assignment procedures and how to download a cover page is provided on the Current Students webpage:
If you have a problem printing your cover sheet, contact the IT help desk on 6488 7888. Please hand in your assignment to the appropriately labeled box located outside the Law School office. Submission time is 12:00 noon for all units (unless otherwise advised).
The Out of Hours Assignment Box is in the Law Library.
Return of Assignments
Assignments will, for the most part, be handed back in class, so it is important to attend all classes in order to collect assignments and results, as well as to receive important feedback from your lecturer and/or tutor.
If for some reason assignments cannot be distributed in class, you will be notified via email of the time and place to collect your assignment. Please have your Campus Card with you when collecting your assignment.

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