Stage 2 | Subject outline | version control

Legal Studies Stage 2
Subject outline

Version 4.0
For teaching in Australian and SACE International schools from January 2023 to December 2023.
For teaching in SACE International schools only from May/June 2023 to March 2024 and from May/June 2024 to March 2025. Accredited in June 2020 for teaching at Stage 2 from 2021.
Accredited in June 2020 for teaching at Stage 2 from 2021. 

Stage 2 | Subject outline | Competing tensions

Competing tensions

Students develop an understanding of the tension between the following:

•    competing rights and responsibilities

•    fairness and efficiency

•    the empowered and the disempowered

•    certainty and flexibility.

The tensions invite students to consider what laws aim to achieve and why it may be difficult to find the perfect balance.

The competing tensions are also designed to allow for conceptual links across the focus areas and options, and to guide students to consider fundamental questions about laws. Some competing tensions have been aligned with specific focus areas, but teachers may choose to examine different competing tensions and how they relate to big questions.

Together with big questions, these tensions provide a rich platform for discussion and analysis.

Competing rights and responsibilities

Students develop an understanding that laws regulate relationships between people and legal entities. These relationships require rules due to the tensions that arise between conflicting legal rights and responsibilities.

Students are encouraged to explore the different contexts in which a conflict between legal rights may occur. These could include the rights of an individual conflicting with the rights of the community, and the rights of special interest groups conflicting with the rights of the wider community. Other contexts could include the rights of nations, including Australia, conflicting with international human rights, and the rights of people now — and in the past — conflicting with the rights of people in the future.

Students consider the challenges involved in resolving conflicting rights for institutions of government that make laws, enforce and administer laws, and resolve disputes about laws. Students investigate the extent to which laws adequately strike a balance between competing rights and provide an appropriate consequence when rights are breached.

Fairness and efficiency

Students develop an understanding of whether an appropriate balance between fairness and efficiency is struck by the legal system. They consider these competing tensions in the context of the power exercised by institutions of government in the processes of making laws and enforcing and resolving disputes about laws. They evaluate whether the law is fair and/or efficient when Australian citizens are seeking a legal resolution in the court system.

The empowered and the disempowered

Students develop an understanding of how power is shared and divided amongst different arms of government, and statutory bodies across the legal system. Students investigate and analyse whether current power-sharing arrangements are benefiting Australian society. 

Students consider different geopolitical spaces (social, cultural, economic, geographic groups) in Australian society that may be disempowered by the current system structure. They investigate possible changes or courses of action that could potentially redress the power imbalance between the individual or group, and the government.

Certainty and flexibility

Students develop an understanding that effective legal systems strive for an appropriate balance between certainty and flexibility. Students are encouraged to inquire into whether this balance is successfully achieved in the Australian legal system.

Certainty is a necessary feature of constitutional government. There must be clarity regarding both the roles and powers of the institutions of government, and the rights and responsibilities of the people. However, there must also be the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and needs; the law must evolve to meet the needs of societies now and in the future.

There is a tension between the desire to maintain a stable and known set of legal principles, and the need to adapt the law to reflect the changing values and needs of the people. This tension poses challenges for parliaments, governments, and courts, and leads to an ongoing debate in the community.

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