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Focus question 1: How do you get a fair trial?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Why do we need laws? (30 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: What do you know about laws? (30 min) ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Proving your innocence (45-60 min) ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Getting a fair ruling (60-70 min) ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Getting a fair trial today (20 min) ESL Activity 5
Activity 6: Putting it all together (20 min) ESL Activity 6
Activity 7: Fair trial poster (60 min) ESL Activity 7
Assessment ESL Assessment

Activity 1: Why do we need laws? (30 min)

Handout 1

The rules by which the whole society must live are called laws.

1a Write the question 'Do we need laws?' on the board.

1b Form student groups or pairs to complete the task on Handout 1.

1c Ask the groups to share their answers with the class. As they do so discuss the answers, drawing out key points.
The middle primary unit 'Rules and Laws' also addresses law.

1d Ask students to consider a world where there are no laws. List their ideas on the board.

Activity 2: What do you know about laws? (30 min)

2a Conduct a 'Hot potato' activity. Use large pieces of paper such as butcher's paper. Write one of the following headings at the top of each sheet:

• laws • law making • law breaking • courts

Display the sheets in the classroom so that students can modify them throughout the course of the unit.

2b Ask each group to nominate one student to record every idea relating to the heading that the group can come up with in five minutes. At the end of the five minutes each group exchanges its paper with another group and has five minutes to add any new ideas on the particular topic. Repeat, until all groups have written on all sheets of paper.

2c Conduct a report-back by asking groups to pick the most relevant three comments from each sheet to tell to the rest of the class. Ask the class if they agree with that choice and if there are any other points that are important.

Activity 3: Proving your innocence (45-60 min)

This activity introduces students to the key principles of a fair trial.

Handout 2 3a Distribute Handout 2 and discuss the methods of trial depicted. These trials are unfair and could not establish the truth. Explain that even though they sound exaggerated they used to happen over a thousand years ago among people called the Saxons.

3b Discuss why the methods are not fair and then ask what students think is needed to make sure that a trial is fair. Ask students to discuss the following questions in their groups. One student or, if you prefer, each student, should record the answers:

  • Would this type of trial really prove whether you were innocent or not?
  • Why wouldn't it prove this? (For example, there is no connection between the crime of stealing and holding a hot iron.)
  • Why do you think the Saxons thought that these trials would find the truth? (Superstition led them to believe that the gods would protect the innocent.)
  • What do we need to know if we are really going to know the truth? (Examples include whether the accused was seen stealing, seen near the crime site and so on.)

3c Make the point that most of what we need to know is what is called evidence or facts. On the board write: 'A fair trial needs to be based on evidence (facts)'.

3d Ask students the question: 'How does evidence help you in a trial?' Get students to write down their ideas, then report back. (Evidence allows the court to decide whether you are guilty or not; judges and juries use evidence to decide the outcome.)

Not all courts operate in the same way. Some courts do not have juries; some, such as the Children's Court, are less formal.

3e Explain that in fair trials the defendant (the person who is on trial) is given the opportunity to explain their side of the story. People (witnesses) are used to provide evidence to prove a defendant's guilt or innocence of a crime. Ask students to recall trials seen on television or in films and describe details of how witnesses and evidence are used in trials.

Discuss the use of:

  • a swearing-in process, in which witnesses must promise to tell the truth (explain that not telling the truth is an offence for which a person can be gaoled)
  • evidence and witnesses, to give both sides of a case
  • lawyers, to represent people in courts.

Activity 4: Getting a fair ruling (60-70 min)

The purpose of this activity is to get students to understand how a fair trial depends upon a fair and balanced perspective from the court. This introduces the idea of a jury of peers who provide another view on a case. Students imagine how British law might have seemed from three different perspectives - those of the judge, the defendant and the jury - at the time of the First Fleet.

4a Describe the context of the time to the students:

In many cases transportation was an alternative punishment for the death sentence.
In Britain in the 1700s (around the time of the First Fleet), law was made by parliament and by custom, in other words by beliefs and decisions handed down from the past. The British Parliament was controlled by the upper classes. The judges were from the upper classes, and tended not to be sympathetic to the poor.

British law at that time was based on the idea that British subjects were free people with a right to a fair trial. While the courts were very busy places, and many people were convicted of crimes, when there was not enough evidence people were not convicted. For those convicted, the punishments were extremely harsh. For example, a person found guilty of stealing a small amount of money was often sentenced to death.

Poor people often had to steal to survive and many were transported, even for crimes such as stealing bread. At first, convicts were transported to America until it refused to take any more (after the War of Independence) and they had to be kept in British gaols. Once the gaols were full, thousands of convicts had to be put in old boats, called hulks. These harsh punishments didn't stop people from committing crimes and Britain needed more and more prisons. Finally, the British Government decided to make Australia into a sort of gaol.

Handout 3,4 4b Distribute Handout 3 and discuss the people and the crimes for which they were transported.

4c Distribute Handout 4 and explain that the picture The Bench is of four English judges in the 1700s. It was drawn by the English artist William Hogarth who wanted to show his opinion of the English justice system.

4d Discuss how Hogarth has represented the judges (their expressions, for example). Point out that showing people as fat was in those days a way of suggesting that they were greedy, rich or lazy. Ask the students to suggest what message the artist is presenting about the British court system and the British ruling class. (Would judges such as these be sympathetic to the poor?) Remind students to consider the context:

Draw students' attention to the judges' dress and explain that this attire is still used by judges in some courts.

  • Many people were very poor.
  • The crime rate was very high.

4e Allow time for students to share their responses to Handout 4.

4f Introduce the idea of a jury. Explain that courts often included a jury who also were responsible for making decisions. Juries were made up of ordinary people, not trained lawyers or judges. In British courts of the 1700s there were some juries who would refuse to find a defendant guilty where the punishment for the crime was absurdly harsh.

4g Ask the students to consider the punishments from the perspective of a juror. Ask them to make up a name for their juror and write their view of the case.

4h Ask students to share their responses. Discuss, as a class, how a jury might result in a fairer trial.

Handout 5,6

Activity 5: Getting a fair trial today (20 min)

5a Distribute Handout 5.

5b Discuss, emphasising that it is the job of the court to decide whether someone has broken a law or not, and that nobody else has a say in the decision. Not all courts have juries, but if they do, the jury makes this decision. The judge then decides which punishment, according to the law, should be applied.

Handout 5 will be reused in Focus question 3.

5c Display Handout 6. Explain to students that these are some important principles in getting a fair trial today.

5d Ask students to rank these in order of importance in their workbooks. Encourage students to add any additional ideas to the list. Discuss as a class and create a class list.

Activity 6: Putting it all together (20 min)

6a Introduce 'The Law Rules' chart. Put four copies of the following chart on the wall, to be completed in the course of the unit. Keep the last column, to be filled out at the end of the unit, folded or covered.

The Law Rules

What I think
A fair trial      
Law making      
Independence of the courts      
Equality before the law      

6b Groups should complete the first row, for 'A fair trial?'.

Activity 7: Fair trial poster (60 min)

7a Divide students into groups. Groups of two are recommended for this activity.

7b Students will make a poster to illustrate how we ensure a fair trial. The poster should include the following information:

  • illustrations of the key principles of a fair trial
  • a news article taken from the media which includes:
    - an example or a mention of at least one of the key principles (eg evidence)
    - the example highlighted or underlined by the student
    - a caption written by the student that explains which principle of a fair trial is shown.


Collect the student posters and assess using the following criteria. The student can:

  • identify key principles of a fair trial
  • accurately underline and label the article
  • clearly display, using an appropriate layout.

ESL activities

Back to 'The Law Rules - At a glance'

AcknowledgementsLegal Information