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Legal Method and Reasoning (LAWS50023)

Graduate coursework level 5Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework Level 5
Subject codeLAWS50023
Summer Term
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

In this foundational subject, students will develop a critical understanding of the core elements of legal method and reasoning in Australia's common law legal system. Students in Legal Method and Reasoning will analyse the principal sources of law and the functions they perform in modern Australian society. The relationship between sources of law will be explored in depth. Contemporary debates on common law method and the ways in which different sources of law have evolved also will be explored.

Methodological issues will be considered in substantive contexts which give students an opportunity to develop an understanding of the social role of law. Throughout this intensively taught subject, students will critically interrogate whether or not these sources of law, the institutions from which they are derived and the methodologies employed to develop binding rules and principles of law are in need of reform.

Students will be taught in highly interactive, discussion-oriented classes. Assessment tasks will be designed to give students detailed, formative feedback on the skills they have acquired in the subject.

Legal Method and Reasoning's emphasis is on the contemporary application of the rules and principles governing how the common law and statutory law operate. Given its foundational subject matter, this subject will prepare students for the compulsory subjects they undertake in their first full semester of studies.

The principal topics which are canvassed in depth include:

  • Analysis of case law, with a focus on significant complex scenarios using common law reasoning;
  • critical exploration of the concept and use of precedent;
  • examination of the progressive evolution of common law doctrine and the emergence of new principles;
  • analysis of statutes, in practical, contemporary settings;
  • critical exploration of statutory interpretation, with an emphasis on the use of interpretation legislation, the purposive approach and extrinsic materials ;
  • the relationship between statutes and case-law and between different statutes; and
  • presumptions in statutory interpretation, including the principle of legality.

Intended learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this subject will have acquired the skills necessary for the development of a deep understanding of the core elements of legal method and reasoning in common law legal systems. They also will have developed critical perspectives with respect to the principal sources of law and the functions they perform in modern Australian society. In particular, students who have completed this subject should be able to do the following:

  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of conceptual issues and debates in modern law, including:
    • how sources of law emerge and are applied; and
    • the relationship of the common law and legislation.
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of, and ability to engage in, debates about the ways in which common law reasoning operates. This includes an ability to:
    • extract important features from judgments and reconcile judgments;
    • evaluate the development of legal principles; and
    • apply legal principles arising in case law to new situations.
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of, and ability to engage in, debates about statutory interpretation. This includes an ability to:
    • extract important features from statutes; and
    • use and apply statutory provisions to new situations.
  • Demonstrate a capacity to critically and independently evaluate arguments about conceptual and policy issues associated with modern legal reasoning.

Generic skills

A student who successfully completes Legal Method and Reasoning will have developed and demonstrated:

  • The capacity for close reading and analysis of a range of sources;
  • the capacity to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing;
  • legal analysis and problem-solving skills, on which subsequent subjects will build;
  • an ability to identify and analyse legal issues arising in new fact situations and the ways in which disputes can be resolved;
  • understanding, critical reflection, synthesis and comparison of judicial decisions, statutory provisions, and other primary source materials, relevant to modern approaches to legal reasoning;
  • understanding, critical reflection, synthesis and comparison of academic/judicial commentary on modern approaches to understanding how sources of law operate, evolve, emerge and interact; and
  • the ability to generate and evaluate proposals for the reform of Australian approaches to the notion of precedent and hierarchy.
  • a sound grounding in fundamental legal writing skills, including an ability to concisely and accurately identify and articulate legal principles;
  • the capacity to evaluate the significance and implications of legal rules and the issues to which they relate;
  • the ability to provide accurate advice on legal issues;
  • professionalism in their conduct in classroom activities, in their behaviour towards their peers and teachers and in self-study management; and
  • professionalism in engagement with learning.

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


Additional details

  • Case Analysis Exercise (1,500 words);
  • Statutory Interpretation Exercise (1,500 words).

Hurdle requirement: Students must pass both assessment tasks to be awarded a pass in the subject.

The due dates for the above assessment tasks will be available to students via the Assessment Schedule on the LMS Community.

Dates & times

  • Summer Term
    Principal coordinatorIan Malkin
    Mode of deliveryOn Campus — Parkville
    Contact hours35 hours
    Total time commitment144 hours
    Teaching period11 February 2019 to 22 February 2019
    Last self-enrol date13 February 2019
    Census date15 February 2019
    Last date to withdraw without fail20 February 2019
    Assessment period ends25 February 2019

    Summer Term contact information

    Email: law-aso@unimelb.edu.au
    Phone: +61 3 8344 4475
    Website: law.unimelb.edu.au

Further information

  • Texts

    Prescribed texts

    • Creyke et al, Laying Down the Law (LexisNexis Butterworths, 10th ed, 2018);
    • R Finkelstein and D Hamer (eds), LexisNexis Concise Australian Legal Dictionary (LexisNexis Butterworths, 5th ed, 2015);
    • Specialist materials will also be made available from Melbourne Law School.
  • 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: 27 July 2019