University of Technology Sydney

70102 Foundations of Law

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2020 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Law
Credit points: 8 cp
Result type: Grade and marks

There are course requisites for this subject. See access conditions.


This subject introduces students to the foundations of Australian law: its origins, institutions, cultural contexts and theoretical foundations. We examine the role of the legal doctrine of terra nullius in the British colonisation of Australian peoples and places, and its connection to the 'reception' of English law into Australia. We explore the key ideas that underpin Australia's legal institutions including democracy, sovereignty, the rule of law and the separation of powers. We combine our understanding of the historical development of Australian law and legal institutions with a critical analysis of their conceptual underpinnings using critical legal theory. This theory scrutinises the assumptions, logic, language and practice of law. Using a critical analysis of law, for example, from the perspective of the colonised rather than the colonising, allows students to ask different questions about not only the abstract principles of law, but also the lived experience of law. The subject also introduces students to the nature of legal thinking and legal practice including research methods, and the techniques and principles involved in reading and interpreting case law and statute. Legal reasoning is one of the most important topics in the subject and students are given the opportunity to explore both traditional methods of legal reasoning and critical lenses through which to analyse and evaluate a legal question. For instance, using feminist legal theories and critical race theory we can arrive at different answers to the same legal question. The critical legal thinking and legal research skills that students develop in this subject are essential to the successful completion of later subjects in the law degree program.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

Upon successful completion of this subject students should be able to:

1. Explain the histories and cultures of the Australian legal system in terms of its key events and concepts, and their effect on the practice and experience of contemporary law from a range of perspectives.
2. Explain how disputes are classified into the language, logic and structure of law and situated within broader cultural and social contexts; and define the major principles and categories of law through which disputes are addressed.
3. Explain what critical thinking is and its relevance to the analysis of law.
4. Identify, articulate, analyse, evaluate and challenge the reasoning process of both one's own position and other people's positions and arguments on specific questions using critical thinking skills.
5. Articulate and conduct the key components of the legal research process including identifying, distinguishing between and locating primary and secondary sources; interpreting and evaluating relevant sources; accurate note-taking and acknowledgment of sources.
6. Demonstrate proficiency in foundational legal knowledge, critical thinking and legal research skills by combining all three effectively to independently answer a legal question.

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject also contributes specifically to the development of the following graduate attributes which reflect the course intended learning outcomes:

  • Legal Knowledge
    A coherent understanding of fundamental areas of legal knowledge, including the Australian legal system, social justice, cultural and international contexts and the principles and values of ethical practice (LAW.1.0)
  • Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    A capacity to think critically, strategically and creatively, including an ability to identify and articulate legal issues, apply reasoning and research, engage in critical analysis and make reasoned choices (LAW.3.0)
  • Research skills
    Well-developed cognitive and practical skills necessary to identify, research, evaluate and synthesise relevant factual, legal and policy issues (LAW.4.0)
  • Communication and Collaboration
    Effective and appropriate communication skills, including highly effective use of the English language, an ability to inform, analyse, report and persuade using an appropriate medium and message and an ability to respond appropriately (LAW.5.0)

Teaching and learning strategies

1. Independent preparation for class

Class preparation is integral to the learning strategies in this subject because preparation enables students to gain legal knowledge and skills which they then test and practise in class. Student learning is supported by a Foundations of Law Learning Guide available from Subject Documents folder on the subject site on UTSOnline. Students must read the Learning Guide very carefully as it contains details of all readings, preparation activities, questions and learning activities set for each seminar. Preparatory readings, materials and activities are designed to equip students for seminars, provide detail on legal concepts, principles and theories discussed in seminars, encourage engagement and independent learning skills and provide insight into appropriate form, language, expression and legal citation for legal writing. Students are to bring the Learning Guide to each seminar together with any accompanying materials and the set text book. Preparation activities set out in the Guide cover a wide range of activities including: prescribed readings; watching vodcasts; completing research exercises; and preparing written answers to set questions aimed at developing legal knowledge and encouraging critical thinking. Some classes also require students to prepare written material that will be peer-assessed in class. Completion of these preparation activities enables students to participate in informed class discussion, test their understanding about the assigned topic and practise critical thinking and research skills.

2. In-class activities

The learning environment and in-class activities in seminars are designed to be lively, intellectually challenging, interesting and supportive. Seminars are interactive forums and students are expected to participate actively in class. Participation activities include: answering and posing questions; debates with peers; critical thinking exercises; research exercises; practising oral communication skills and engaging in collaborative activities working in pairs and larger groups. Students are encouraged to bring their laptops to seminars.

3. Feedback

Feedback from the seminar leader and peers is available to students in each and every class and also through the UTSOnline discussion board forums where students can post questions and comments from the first seminar. Students are encouraged to actively seek feedback on their understanding by answering and asking questions in class.

Posts on the UTSOnline Discussion Board are read by all students enrolled in this subject, and by all seminar leaders and the coordinator; therefore all posts should be succinct and use respectful and non-discriminatory expression. Any use of offensive language may result in an allegation of student misconduct. The Discussion Board will be checked by the Coordinator regularly and all posts will be answered within 48 hours unless the answer is contained within this Subject Outline or in the Learning Guide or in the UTS:Law Student Guidebook. Before posting a question, please check it is not already answered in one of these documents or in a previous chain of discussion. The Discussion Board is not monitored outside of business hours.

Students receive individual feedback on their progress in the subject before the census date through the completion of an in-class assessment task (details below in Assessment Task 1). Before submitting any of the assessment tasks students should read the marking criteria carefully and use it to self-assess their own work before submission. When the tasks are marked and returned, students should read the feedback carefully and incorporate this into future tasks. Students receive individual feedback on all formal assessment tasks.

4. Research

This subject aims to equip students with the necessary legal research skills required for their undergraduate studies and beyond. Effective legal research skills ensure students are able to learn about new areas of the law and keep up to date throughout their careers. Students develop, practise and demonstrate their research skills through two dedicated research classes, in-class activities and assessment tasks. Research activities are integrated in many of the seminars. As directed in the Learning Guide, students complete research exercises before coming to class. Some class activities require students to demonstrate their skills in class.

Subject Delivery

This subject is structured around 2 x 2 hour small group seminars per week. Seminars are based on discussion and in-class activities; there are no lectures in this subject. The seminar topics are set out in the program below. The subject is taught and assessed using a combination of seminars and self-directed learning. Collaborative learning and critical reflection are central to this subject.

Content (topics)

  1. Legal research
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Legal reading and writing (statutory interpretation and case law)
  4. Development of Anglo-Australian law
  5. Constitutional framework
  6. Legal institutions and processes
  7. Judicial decision-making
  8. Critical legal theories


Assessment task 1: In-class timed assessment


The objective of this task is to enable students to test their understanding and receive feedback on the topics introduced and discussed in the seminars conducted to date.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1 and 2

This task contributes specifically to the development of the following graduate attributes:

LAW.1.0 and LAW.3.0

Weight: 15%

approximately 500 words

  • Knowledge and understanding of concepts, events and terminology covered in the relevant classes;
  • Discuss concepts and events critically;
  • Ability to write coherently using appropriate grammar, syntax and punctuation.

Assessment task 2: Critical Case Note


This task is intended to test students’ ability to read and critically analyse a case.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

2, 4 and 5

This task contributes specifically to the development of the following graduate attributes:

LAW.1.0, LAW.3.0 and LAW.4.0

Weight: 30%

1300 words, excluding footnotes. There is a 10% leeway on either side of this assignment in respect of the word count

  • Locate and select authoritative version of the case for analysis;
  • Accuracy of summary and analysis of the issue, procedural history, facts, law, reasoning and ratio of the case;
  • Developed and insightful analysis of the case using theoretical concepts;
  • Persuasive argument that situates the decision in its broader social/political context;
  • Clear and fluent written expression following the structure of the question; evidence of careful proofreading and editing;
  • Referencing appropriately and consistently adheres with AGLC 4;
  • Evidence of careful checking and proofreading of references.

Assessment task 3: Statutory interpretation and research exercise


Statutory interpretation is an essential legal skill and fundamental to future undergraduate and postgraduate study, and professional practice. This assessment task tests students’ statutory interpretation skills and builds on the research and critical thinking skills assessed in assessment task 2.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

2, 4, 5 and 6

This task contributes specifically to the development of the following graduate attributes:

LAW.1.0, LAW.3.0 and LAW.4.0

Weight: 40%

1500 words not including footnotes and references. The detailed instructions for this assessment item will provide a guide for the distribution of word length across the parts of the task. There is a 10% leeway on either side for this assignment in respect of the word count

  • Locate and identify the relevant (and/or proposed) legislative provisions;
  • Evidence of careful reading of legislation including proficiency in one or more of the statutory interpretation rules;
  • Generate an accurate statement of the law;
  • Locate and select peer-reviewed and scholarly journal articles relevant to the law;
  • Critical evaluation of scholarship;
  • Clear and fluent written expression following the structure of the question; evidence of careful proofreading and editing;
  • Referencing appropriately and consistently adheres with AGLC 4;
  • Evidence of careful checking and proofreading of references.

Assessment task 4: Class Participation


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1, 2, 4, 5 and 6

This task contributes specifically to the development of the following graduate attributes:

LAW.1.0, LAW.3.0 and LAW.5.0

Weight: 15%

up to 1000 words

  • Knowledge and understanding of the issues
  • Critical analysis and insight
  • Engagement with the set materials
  • Willingness to contribute to discussions in an informed way
  • Oral communication skills
  • Cooperative group discussion skills

Minimum requirements

Class attendance is a subject requirement. Your seminar leader will take a roll during class. Although we encourage you to attend every seminar we understand that things happen and you can afford to miss up to four seminars, excluding the in-class timed assessment seminars, without penalty provided that you send an email to your seminar leader to explain your absence. However, if you miss more than four classes you will not be permitted to receive a mark for the subject. In exceptional circumstances of illness and misadventure, you may be offered an opportunity to submit additional work for each class missed and permitted to receive a mark for the subject. Please note that work commitments and personal travel do not constitute an acceptable reason for absence from seminars. Please do not plan holidays that coincide with UTS teaching weeks.

Required texts

  1. Michelle Sanson and Thalia Anthony, Connecting with Law (Oxford University Press, 4th ed, 2019). Please bring this to every seminar. PURCHASE THIS BOOK FROM GLEEBOOKS on Glebe Point Road in Glebe WELL IN ADVANCE OF YOUR FIRST CLASS
  2. Australian Guide to Legal Citation (Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc, 4th ed, 2018). You will need to bring this to seminar 1 (and other seminars as advised). You MUST possess either the hard copy version or, alternatively, the Guide can be viewed, downloaded (for free) or purchased from
  3. You must have access to an up-to-date Australian Law Dictionary, such as one of the following: Australian Law Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed, 2017) OR Concise Australian Legal Dictionary (LexisNexis Butterworths, 5th ed, 2015).
  4. Throughout the session, essential and required readings will be set that you should locate independently from the UTS Library and the subject site on UTSOnline. It is important for you to demonstrate your capacity to locate these materials independently and bring them to seminars together with your textbook. If in doubt, please do ask a UTS Librarian or your seminar leader well ahead of seminars to ensure you have time to locate, read and annotate your readings.

Recommended texts

  1. Larissa Behrendt, Chris Cunneen, Terri Libesman and Nicole Watson (eds), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Relations (Oxford University Press, 2nd ed, 2019).
  2. Elizabeth Ellis, Principles and Practices of Australian Law (Lawbook, 3rd ed, 2013).
  3. Nikolas James, Rachael Field and Jackson Walkden-Brown, The New Lawyer (Wiley, 2nd ed, 2019).
  4. Terry Hutchinson, Researching and Writing in Law (Thomson Reuters, 4th ed, 2018).
  5. Bruce Bott, Ruth Talbot-Stokes, Nemes and Coss’ Effective Legal Research (LexisNexis Butterworths, 7th ed, 2018).
  6. Denise Meyerson, Jurisprudence (Oxford University Press, 2013).
  7. Margaret Davies, Asking the Law Question (Thomson Lawbook Co, 4th ed, 2017).
  8. Stella Cottrell, Critical Thinking Skills (Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd ed, 2011).
  9. Heather Douglas et al (eds) Australian Feminist Judgments: Writing and Rewriting Law (Hart 2014).

Other resources

Reading on studying and writing in law:

  • Michael Brogan and David Spencer, Becoming a Lawyer: Success at Law School (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed, 2014).
  • Enid Campbell and Richard Fox, Students’ Guide to Legal Writing, Law Exams and Self Assessment (Federation Press, 3rd ed, 2010).
  • Claire Macken, Law Student Survival Guide: 9 Steps to Law Study Success (Thomson Reuters, 2nd ed, 2010).

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