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Unit of study_

LAWS5224: Charters of Rights and Criminal Punishment

2024 unit information

Can the presence of a charter of rights in a jurisdiction lead to improved protections for criminal offenders against laws that punish them harshly, or authorise or require the judiciary to do so? It is often assumed that human rights charters can, or even will, cause the rights of such unpopular minorities to be better protected than they otherwise would have been – but such claims are often not properly substantiated. In this unit, we will expose them to critical scrutiny. In doing so, we will compare certain judicial decisions in jurisdictions, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Victoria, where a charter is in force, with those in Australian jurisdictions where no charter of rights has been enacted. What effect does, or can, the enactment of a charter have on judicial reasoning? Can charters cause the law to become less punitive than it otherwise would have been? Topics to be considered might include: the death penalty; corporal punishment; irreducible life sentences; mandatory sentencing; and preventive detention. Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, the United States Supreme Court and the superior courts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom will be closely analysed. And consideration will be given to this, vexed, question: even if charters of rights are, or can be, effective, are they desirable?

Unit details and rules

Managing faculty or University school:


Code LAWS5224
Academic unit Law
Credit points 6
LAWS5003 and LAWS5007
Assumed knowledge:

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. Through an intense focus on judicial decisions from various jurisdictions, students will develop (a) their ability to integrate and critically apply knowledge and (b) skills and techniques associated with the discipline of law (for example, the ability to read cases carefully and to reflect critically on judicial reasoning).
  • LO2. Through a deep engagement with case law, statutes, and legal, philosophical and criminological literature, students will develop the ability critically to analyse the law relating to the punishment of criminal offenders (and to define and understand the legal problems that arise in this area). They will also develop the ability to formulate and defend solutions to legal problems.
  • LO3. Students will develop the ability to communicate their ideas skilfully in written form; and, by studying the law in different jurisdictions, they will gain knowledge that allows them to enrich their understanding of, and their engagement with, the law and legal issues in various social contexts.
  • LO4. Students will develop the ability skilfully to access, synthesise, utilise and manage information through effective legal research strategies and the responsible use of appropriate resources etc.
  • LO5. Because students will consider philosophical and criminological material in the unit (as well as legal material), they will develop the ability to (a) integrate and synthesise legal and non-legal viewpoints and practices and (b) work effectively across disciplinary and professional boundaries.

Unit availability

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Session MoA ?  Location Outline ? 
Semester 1 2024
Normal day Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney
There are no availabilities for previous years.

Modes of attendance (MoA)

This refers to the Mode of attendance (MoA) for the unit as it appears when you’re selecting your units in Sydney Student. Find more information about modes of attendance on our website.