Public Trials

Subject LAWS30024 (2015)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2015.

Credit Points: 12.5
Level: 3 (Undergraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject has the following teaching availabilities in 2015:

Semester 2, Parkville - Taught on campus.
Pre-teaching Period Start not applicable
Teaching Period 27-Jul-2015 to 25-Oct-2015
Assessment Period End 20-Nov-2015
Last date to Self-Enrol 07-Aug-2015
Census Date 31-Aug-2015
Last date to Withdraw without fail 25-Sep-2015

Timetable can be viewed here. For information about these dates, click here.
Time Commitment: Contact Hours: 36 hours. 3 hours per week (2 hour lecture; 1 hour tutorial).
Total Time Commitment:

144 hours.

Prerequisites: None
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge: None
Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering requests for Reasonable Adjustments under the Disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Students Experiencing Academic Disadvantage Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Description, Subject Objectives, Generic Skills, and Assessment Requirements of this entry.

The University is dedicated to providing support to those with special requirements. Further details on the disability support scheme can be found at the Disability Liaison Unit website:


Assoc Prof Ann Genovese


Melbourne Law School Student Centre
Tel: +61 3 8344 4475

Subject Overview:

Trials play an important role in the drama of public life. Their study enables a contextual exploration of how law is constructed and performed. The guiding questions of this subject are: what happens in the trial? And what does the trial represent for the political community within which it takes place? The subject explores these questions through a range of high profile or exemplary trials in state and commonwealth, national and international, jurisdictions.

The key themes addressed through the in-depth study of public trials in this subject are:

  • The use of trials to respond to situations of injustice and social instability;
  • How trials generate stories of nationhood and political identity;
  • The role of trials in reforming law and transforming the event to which they respond;
  • What the drama of the specific trial reveals about the community in which it is staged.

After introducing the nature of public trials - trials of the century, political trials, cause celebre - the subject turns to a consideration of exemplary trials, both contemporary and historical, from various jurisdictions. An indicative sample includes the following famous trials. These will be taught by scholars with specific expertise on the particular trial and their legal question.

  • The Eichmann Trial (Jerusalem 1961);
  • The Communist Party Case (Melbourne 1950-1951);
  • The Ronald Ryan case (death penalty);
  • Hindmarsh Island Bridge case (Canberra 1997);
  • Lindy Chamberlain trials (1981-1983);
  • The Tampa case (Ruddock v Vardarlis, 2001);
  • Nuclear Weapons case, International Court of Justice,1993-1996;
  • Tasmanian Dams case, 1983;
  • Nulyrimma and Thompson (Australian genocide case), 1999;
  • The Mabo (No 2) case, 1992;
  • Brown v Board of Education, USA, 1954;
  • Re A (the conjoined twins case), UK, 2001;
  • The David Hicks Military Commission hearing, 2007;
  • Palm Island death in custody coronial inquiries and trial, 2004-2007;
  • OJ Simpson trials (criminal and civil), 1995-2007.
Learning Outcomes:

A student who has successfully completed this subject should have an understanding of the role of legal trials in political and public life, and the lessons that can be drawn about law, politics and justice. Specifically, the student will be able to reflect on and evaluate:

  • How trials work as forms of political story-telling;
  • The historical transformation of law through trials;
  • The significance of law for social change and social activism;
  • Interdisciplinary approaches to law.

In addition, a student will have obtained:

  • An appreciation of the distinctive procedure and function of courts;
  • A transnational and comparative understanding of the trial;
  • In depth knowledge of at least one public trial and to analyse public trials from a variety of perspectives;
  • The capacity to conduct independent research about law and its relation to historical, social and political context.
  • Topic proposal (1000 words), due week 7 (redeemable 25%);
  • Research essay (3000 words), due in first week of examination period (75%).
Prescribed Texts:

Specialist printed materials will be available from the University Co-Op Bookshop.

Breadth Options:

This subject potentially can be taken as a breadth subject component for the following courses:

You should visit learn more about breadth subjects and read the breadth requirements for your degree, and should discuss your choice with your student adviser, before deciding on your subjects.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:

On completion of the subject the student should have:

  • Capacity for self-directed learning, specifically the ability to plan work and use time effectively;
  • Cognitive and analytical skills;
  • Ability to speak about complex ideas in a clear and cogent manner;
  • An awareness of diversity and plurality;
  • Write essays which develop structured argumentation;
  • Capacity to judge the worth of their own arguments.
Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: Law and Justice

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