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 2024 is available in the Archives.

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


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:
    a. The Australian colonial and post-colonial legal system, international and comparative contexts, theoretical and technical knowledge;
    b. The broader contexts within which legal issues arise and the law operates including cultural awareness, social justice and policy;
    c. The impact of Anglo-Australian laws on Indigenous peoples, including their historical origins in the process of colonisation and ongoing impact; and
    d. The principles and values of justice and ethical practices in lawyers' roles. (LAW.1.1)
  • Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    A capacity to think critically, strategically and creatively, including the ability to:
    a. Identify and articulate legal issues in context, including the skill of critical reading and writing;
    b. Apply reasoning and research to generate appropriate responses;
    c. Engage in critical analysis and make a reasoned choice amongst alternatives; and
    d. Think creatively in approaching legal issues and generating appropriate responses. (LAW.3.1)
  • Research skills
    Well-developed cognitive and practical skills necessary to identify, research, evaluate and synthesise relevant factual, legal and policy issues. (LAW.4.1)
  • Communication
    Effective and appropriate communication skills including:
    a. Highly effective use of the English language to convey legal ideas and views to different and diverse audiences and environments;
    b. An ability to communicate to inform, analyse, report and persuade;
    c. An ability to strategically select an appropriate medium and message;
    d. An ability to assess how messages are received and alter communication strategies accordingly; and
    e. An ability to be responsive and adaptive to the perspectives of collaborators, clients, counter parties and others. (LAW.5.1)
  • Indigenous Professional Capability
    Bachelor of Law graduates will:
    Apply knowledge and skills to develop professional capabilities to work effectively with and for Indigenous peoples and communities across the law profession. (LAW.7.1)

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 Canvas which provides thorough details about what you need to read or view before attending each class, as well as the questions and activities that will guide each class. Each class has its own separate module. You must read each module 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 either have access to Canvas in class (or have printed out the discussion starter questions/activities) and bring along to each class any accompanying materials, notes and the set text book. Preparation activities set out in each module on Canvas 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 Canvas 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 Canvas 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. 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 interim feedback on their class participation. 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.

Content (topics)

  • Legal skills (legal research; critical thinking and self-management)
  • Development of Anglo-Australian law
  • Impact of Anglo-Australian laws on Indigenous peoples, including colonization and its ongoing impacts
  • Constitutional framework
  • Legal institutions and processes
  • Judicial decision-making
  • Legal reading and writing (statutory interpretation and case law)
  • Critical legal theories


Assessment task 1: Class Participation


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, 2, 4, 5 and 6

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

LAW.1.1, LAW.3.1 and LAW.5.1

Weight: 20%
  • 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

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.1.1, LAW.3.1 and LAW.7.1

Weight: 40%

2000 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography.

  • 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 adheres with AGLC4
  • 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.1.1, LAW.3.1 and LAW.4.1

Weight: 40%

2000 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography.

  • locate and identify the relevant and/or proposed legislative provision(s)
  • evidence of careful reading of legislation
  • effective application and use of relevant statutory interpretation tools to interpret the provision(s)
  • generate an accurate statement of law
  • locate and select authoritative scholarly writing relevant to the legal area set out in the task
  • critical evaluation of scholarship
  • clear and fluent written expression following the structure of the set task, evidence of careful proofreading and editing
  • referencing appropriately adheres with AGLC4
  • Evidence of careful checking and proofreading of references

Required texts

  1. Michelle Sanson and Thalia Anthony, Connecting with Law (Oxford University Press, 5th ed, 2022). Please bring this to every seminar. Please ensure that you purchase this text 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 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). Both of these are available electronically through the library.
  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 Canvas. 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. Robin Creyke et al, Laying Down the Law (Lexis Nexis, 11th ed, 2021)
  3. Jennifer Greaney, Principles and Practice of Australian Law (Lawbook, 4th ed, 2020).
  4. Nikolas James, Rachael Field and Jackson Walkden-Brown, The New Lawyer (Wiley, 2nd ed, 2019).
  5. Terry Hutchinson, Researching and Writing in Law (Thomson Reuters, 4th ed, 2018).
  6. Bruce Bott, Ruth Talbot-Stokes, Nemes and Coss’ Effective Legal Research (LexisNexis Butterworths, 7th ed, 2018).
  7. Denise Meyerson, Jurisprudence (Oxford University Press, 2013).
  8. Margaret Davies, Asking the Law Question (Thomson Lawbook Co, 4th ed, 2017).
  9. Stella Cottrell, Critical Thinking Skills (Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd ed, 2011).
  10. Heather Douglas et al (eds) Australian Feminist Judgments: Writing and Rewriting Law (Hart 2014).
  11. Nicole Watson and Heather Douglas (eds), Indigenous Legal Judgments: Bringing Indigenous Voices into Judicial Decision Making (Routledge, 2021).
  12. Prue Vines, Law and Justice in Australia: Foundations of the Legal System (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed, 2013)

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).
  • UTS Faculty of Law Guide to Written Communication -

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