Conduct a law reform inquiry

Investigate a law reform issue and present recommendations to a citizens’ jury.

Students
Years 9-12
Duration
2-4 lessons

Before you begin

  1. Ensure that students understand these key terms:
    • Law reform – the process of examining existing laws and advocating for change in order to make the legal system more modern, efficient, simple and/or just.
    • Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) – an independent body that undertakes research and recommends reform on topics selected by the Attorney-General of Australia.
    • Attorney-General of Australia – a minister in the Australian Government and the chief law officer of the Commonwealth of Australia.
  2. Use the ‘action’ discussion starters in the Rights, power, action discussion starters for older students section of the Unpack democracy classroom activity to prompt discussion about how citizens can influence law reform.
  3. Brainstorm examples of changes to Australian laws. What significant changes have students seen in their lifetime? What historical changes do they know of? You may wish to discuss Carly’s law, marriage equality or gun law reform as historic examples. Discuss why these changes came about and what factors drive law reform.
  4. Ensure the class has a shared understanding of what law reform is and the role of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) in the process. Emphasise to students the influence that submissions lodged by members of the public and organisations can have on the law reform process.
  5. Visit the Australian Law Reform Commission’s website to explore past and present inquiries they have conducted. As a class, brainstorm the individuals and organisations who might prepare a submission for these inquiries. Discuss why it is important to receive submissions from a broad range of stakeholders, and why individuals and groups may want to contribute to an inquiry.

Getting started

  1. As a class, brainstorm current issues in Australia that could be the subject of a law reform inquiry. Remind students law reform usually responds to an identified problem or need. In their opinion, what are some laws or features of the legal system they feel are unfair, out-dated or difficult to access? What are some issues in society that could be better regulated by the law?
    Below are some broad topics students may wish to use as a starting point.
    • Poverty in Australia
    • Copyright
    • Cyber-bullying
    • Incarceration of children
    • Euthanasia
    • Truth in political advertising
    • Access to justice
    • Data privacy
    • Anti-discrimination 
    • Environmental protection
  1. Divide students into teams of 3–4. Each team must decide on a law reform issue to investigate further. Alternatively, you may wish to act as the Attorney-General and assign topics to teams that are relevant to your unit of study.
  2. Students brainstorm inquiry questions in their teams. What information will they need to find out? Whose perspectives will they need to consider? Remind students, while they may have already formed views on the issue, their aim is to research a range of perspectives and viewpoints.

Research activity—the law reform inquiry

  1. Groups investigate existing laws that relate to their topic. What current laws relate to this issue? Why might reform be required?
  2. Groups investigate stakeholder perspectives. Groups research individuals and groups with a range of perspectives. They might look at non-government organisations, religious groups and activist groups who have concerns about this issue.
  3. Optional step: groups invite submissions from peers, parents, teachers and other community members. Groups will need to decide how to collect this data (for example, a survey or inviting respondents to write a short paragraph). Doing this will bring an element of authenticity to the inquiry process.
  4. Groups review their research and submissions. Each group should be able to answer the following questions:
    • Are there recurring points of view?
    • Do some perspectives conflict?
    • Will it be possible to make recommendations that satisfy all stakeholders? If not, whose interests will you prioritise and why?
  5. Each group prepares a list of recommendations about what specifically should be done to better address the issue. The groups present their recommendations to the class.

Citizens’ jury

This part of the activity will give students an opportunity to present their findings to the whole group and to engage in democratic processes as a class.

  1. Explain the function of citizens’ juries is to deliberate and collaboratively decide on changes to law and/or policy after listening to and discussing expert evidence. Citizens’ juries make these recommendations to law-makers and other decision makers.
  2. Decide as a class how your citizens’ jury will make decisions. Will all members need to agree to a recommendation? Or will you require a ‘super majority’ (80% in agreement) or be satisfied with an absolute majority (more than 50%)?
  3. Invite groups to present the findings of their law reform inquiry to the citizens’ jury. The presenting group are experts on their issue and the rest of the class is the citizen jury. The presenting group should not try to persuade the jury to accept a point of view but should educate them on the range of viewpoints they have gathered. Each group will present their 3 recommendations.
  4. After each presentation, the citizens’ jury discusses the arguments for and against the recommendations before taking a vote on each one.

What happened?

  1. The Australian Law Reform Commission is an independent agency. This means it is not part of the government or the Australian Parliament. What is the value of having an independent law reform commission?
  2. Did you already have an opinion on the issue you investigated before you began researching? What was the basis for this opinion? In general, where do you think your viewpoints on political and social issues come from?
  3. Discuss whether you think Australia should make use of citizens’ juries. In your opinion, is the process fair or necessary in a representative democracy? How could students influence law makers to make these changes in real life?