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Legal History - JURD7451
 Students on quad lawn

Faculty: Faculty of Law
School:  Faculty of Law
Campus: Kensington Campus
Career: Postgraduate
Units of Credit: 6
EFTSL: 0.12500 (more info)
Indicative Contact Hours per Week: 3
Enrolment Requirements:
Pre-requisite: LAWS1011, LAWS1072, LAWS1061 and LAWS1052 Pre-requisite: JURD7111, JURD7172, JURD7161 and JURD7152
Excluded: LAWS3251
Fee Band: 3 (more info)
Further Information: See Class Timetable


This course introduces students to the historical development of law in the Western legal tradition over three thousand years. In doing so, it charts the role played by law and legal institutions in the division of political power, including the emergence of legal science and the concept of the rule of law. Case studies will be undertaken, looking at the development of particular areas of law: feudal law, royal law, urban law, and reception of Roman law, criminal law codifications of the 17th century and the great codifications of civil law in the 18th century. Learning will be by reading from prescribed textbooks and a rich variety of other sources.

The main focus will be on legal history of public law in Western Europe but with comparison with developments in the history of law in England.

Recommended Prior Knowledge

An interest in history and desire to gain a deeper understanding not only of what the law now is, but of how and why it has become so. There are no formal academic prerequisites for this course.


Dr Adam Czarnota
Ass. Professor of law
Office 222
Phone: (02) 9385 2255

Course Objectives

  • To gain an understanding of the historical development of the main ideas and institutions of the Western legal tradition
  • Gain an appreciation to the nature of basic values and norms connected with the idea of the rule of law

Main Topics

  • Early legal developments in England over the 9th-16th centuries, including an assessment of the historical and contemporary significance of Magna Carta
  • The struggles between the courts, parliament and the monarchy in seventeenth century England, with special attention to the conflict between Sir Edward Coke and James I, the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution
  • The Restoration, Habeas Corpus, the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement
  • 18th century England's political consolidations, concept of felony attaint, and use of hanging and transportation, including consideration of the assessments of 20th century historians like EP Thompson and Douglas Hay
  • The reception of legal institutions and processes into the penal colony of New South Wales
  • The role played by the rule of law in the political formation of a new society in New South Wales
  • The development and roles of the judiciary and the legal profession
  • Case study: the long-term development of a tort (Trover, the precursor of Conversion)
  • Case study: the gradual emergence of the law of contract from Covenant, Trespass, and in particular Assumpsit


Class participation: 20%
Class Presentation 30 %
Research essay 50%

Course Texts


DJ Neal, The Rule of Law in a Penal Colony: Law and Power in early New South Wales (Cambridge University Press, 2002 (paperback) edn).

B Kercher, Debt, Seduction and Other Disasters: the Birth of Civil Law in Convict New South Wales (Sydney, Federation Press, 1996 - paperback)

UNSW Law School Course Guide and Study Kit


  • JH Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History 4th edn (London, Butterworths, 2002)
  • JH Baker & SFC Milsom, Sources of English Legal History (London, Butterworths, 1986)
  • JM Bennett & AC Castles (eds), A Source Book of Australian Legal History (Sydney, Law Book Co, 1979)
  • AC Castles, An Australian Legal History (Sydney, Law Book Co, 1982)
  • M Evans & RI Jack (eds), Sources of English Legal & Constitutional History (Sydney, Butterworths, 1984)
  • DJ Ibbetson, A Historical Introduction to the Law of Obligations (Oxford, OUP, 1999)
  • B Kercher, An Unruly Child: a History of Law in Australia (Allen & Unwin, 1995 – now
  • SFC Milsom, Historical Foundations of the Common Law, 2nd edn (London, Butterworths, 1981)

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© The University of New South Wales (CRICOS Provider No.: 00098G), 2004-2011. The information contained in this Handbook is indicative only. While every effort is made to keep this information up-to-date, the University reserves the right to discontinue or vary arrangements, programs and courses at any time without notice and at its discretion. While the University will try to avoid or minimise any inconvenience, changes may also be made to programs, courses and staff after enrolment. The University may also set limits on the number of students in a course.