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Rules and Laws

Teacher notes

This unit gives students an insight into some of the principles of law operating in a democracy. Students will explore differences between rules and laws, why we have them, and how they can be changed. They also consider the importance of laws applying equally and being public, and the processes through which they are made and interpreted.

About the unit | Indicators of student achievement | Background notes |
Other resources
| Links to other learning areas

About the unit

  • Rules and laws: definition and comparison; purposes and functions
  • The qualities of good rules and laws
  • Types of law: customary and parliamentary

Contexts: school and game rules, road law, Ancient Roman law, Aboriginal law, parliamentary law

Indicators of student achievement

The student can:

  • explain differences between rules and laws
  • describe qualities of good laws
  • apply principles of good laws in familiar situations.

Background notes

451-450 BC The Twelve Tables, Ancient Rome

The development of the Twelve Tables (bronze or wood plates) by the Romans was the earliest attempt to create a written and known code of law to govern the administration of Roman justice and the relationships between the state and citizens, and the relationships between classes of citizens. The code was mainly based on existing customary law and the tables represented an early form of a constitution. At the time in Rome, there were ongoing struggles for legal and civil rights between the privileged class (patricians) and the common people (plebeians). The plebeians won a significant shift towards a more democratic government when they threatened to withdraw their labour and set up another city if the law was not made public and administered more fairly for ordinary freemen. There still remained those people who were not recognised as citizens, for example, women, slaves and those from outer provinces.

Aboriginal law

The 1992 decision of Australia's High Court in relation to Murray Island (the Mabo case) formally recognised the common law rights of Indigenous Australians to their land. In 1788, the British brought with them to Australia English common and statute law, over-riding Aboriginal law that had been in place for at least 60,000 years. As in other societies, Aboriginal law in place at that time ensured that individuals conformed with society's norms.

Aboriginal societies are one of the oldest forms of organised society, marked by their adherence to their laws. These laws may be the oldest still practised in the world. Both Aboriginal law and English/Australian law reinforce living behaviours that everyone is expected to obey. Aboriginal law principles still operate in the lives of some Aboriginal people today.

Law in Australia

When people live together as a community, all the people need to agree upon what is considered acceptable behaviour. Australia is a democracy which rests upon the rule of law. The laws are proposed by government, made by parliament and interpreted by the courts. Laws are public and apply equally to all. That is why everyone is considered equal before the law.

To read more about the ideas in this unit refer to Discovering Democracy - A Guide to Government and Law in Australia.

Other resources

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Key Issue Paper No 1, Understanding Country, AGPS, 1994, pp 4-6. (Also see other Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation materials.)

Law-makers, Law-breakers, Rigby Heinemann, Port Melbourne, 1993.

Shephard, Colin et al, Contrasts and Connections, in Discovering the Past series, John Murray Ltd, London, 1991.

Links to other learning areas

Health and physical education
Studies of society
and environment

  • narrative forms (Dreaming stories)
  • role-play
  • short talks
  • game playing
  • group interactions
  • Aboriginal studies

Back to 'Rules and Laws - At a glance'

AcknowledgementsLegal Information