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Public Trials (LAWS30024)

Undergraduate level 3Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelUndergraduate Level 3
Subject codeLAWS30024
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

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; and
  • 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; and
  • OJ Simpson trials (criminal and civil), 1995-2007.

Intended 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; and
  • 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; and
  • The capacity to conduct independent research about law and its relation to historical, social and political context.

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; and
  • Capacity to judge the worth of their own arguments.

Eligibility and requirements





Non-allowed subjects


Core participation requirements

The University of Melbourne is committed to providing students with reasonable adjustments to assessment and participation under the Disability Standards for Education (2005), and the Assessment and Results Policy (MPF1326). Students are expected to meet the core participation requirements for their course. These can be viewed under Entry and Participation Requirements for the course outlines in the Handbook.

Further details on how to seek academic adjustments can be found on the Student Equity and Disability Support website: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/student-equity/home



  • Class participation (10%);
  • topic proposal (1,000 words), due week 7 (15%);
  • Research essay (3,000 words), due in first week of examination period (75%).

The due date of the above assessment will be available to students via the LMS subject page.

Dates & times

  • Semester 2
    Principal coordinatorAnn Genovese
    Mode of deliveryOn Campus — Parkville
    Contact hours36 hours (one 2-hour lecture and one 1-hour tutorial)
    Total time commitment144 hours
    Teaching period29 July 2019 to 27 October 2019
    Last self-enrol date 9 August 2019
    Census date31 August 2019
    Last date to withdraw without fail27 September 2019
    Assessment period ends22 November 2019

    Semester 2 contact information

Time commitment details

144 hours

Further information

  • Texts

    Prescribed texts

    • Printed subject materials will be available from the University Co-Op Bookshop.
  • Breadth options
  • Available through the Community Access Program

    About the Community Access Program (CAP)

    This subject is available through the Community Access Program (also called Single Subject Studies) which allows you to enrol in single subjects offered by the University of Melbourne, without the commitment required to complete a whole degree.

    Entry requirements including prerequisites may apply. Please refer to the CAP applications page for further information.

    Additional information for this subject

    If required, please contact law-admissions@unimelb.edu.au for subject coordinator approval.

  • Available to Study Abroad and/or Study Exchange Students

    This subject is available to students studying at the University from eligible overseas institutions on exchange and study abroad. Students are required to satisfy any listed requirements, such as pre- and co-requisites, for enrolment in the subject.

Last updated: 5 July 2019