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Evolving with the times

Evolving with the times




Through their studies, students learn that law is the result of debate, negotiation, compromise and sometimes conflict.

As this issue of the LIJ goes to print, thousands of students around Victoria are anxiously awaiting the results of their VCE exams. They include legal studies students – among them, no doubt, future lawyers, judges and perhaps MPs. Some will go on to help shape the laws of the future. Those who do not take their legal studies any further than VCE will have gained important knowledge about how the justice system works, how laws are made and disputes resolved.

Under the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000, one of the VLRC’s functions is to undertake educational programs on any area of the law related to a past or present reference. This comprehends a broad and significant area of contemporary law. One way the VLRC fulfils this role is through visits to schools, in particular VCE classes, where law reform is studied as part of the legal studies curriculum in both Years 11 and 12. Over the past five years this educational function has substantially increased. The VLRC reached more than 2000 VCE students around Victoria this year, through our own program and in productive partnership with the Victoria Law Foundation and several groups of university students. VLRC staff have been privileged to meet young people who are interested in the law, passionate about justice and keen to learn more about how the law affects their lives and communities.

Through their studies, students learn that law is an ever-evolving organism, the result of debate, negotiation, compromise and sometimes conflict. When students are asked “Why do laws need to change?” they are quick with their answers – because of changes in social and community values; because of the lightning pace of technological development which threatens to leave the law in its wake; and because laws, framed at certain moments in time, can become out-of-date for many reasons.

The VLRC’s recent inquiries have addressed examples of all of these. Its newly completed report on funeral and burial instructions reviews an old law, dating back to the England of several centuries ago, when everyone was expected to have a Christian burial and little thought was given to whether an individual may wish to specify their own funeral and burial arrangements. Obviously, such an assumption is not relevant to multicultural Australia in the 21st century, where people may hold many religious beliefs, or none, and may have firm ideas about their own funeral – which currently have no legal force.

To take a different example, in the realm of criminal trials the approaches taken to the hearing of evidence have changed with the development of technology, permitting witnesses on occasion to give evidence via video link-up to prevent the trauma of facing in open court a person who has abused or attacked them. This is one of the matters addressed in the VLRC report on victims of crime in the criminal trial process, recently tabled in parliament.

It is important for students to be aware of ways that the law can respond to the views of the public, and here too the VLRC’s work highlights many examples of community involvement. The funeral and burial instructions project mentioned above was initiated by a member of the public, who contacted the VLRC with a story of her own experience of a family dispute resulting from disagreements about the burial arrangements of a family member. The VLRC decided to take on the matter as a community law reform project and discovered that the issue was a matter of widespread concern.

The VLRC’s work underscores many of the principles discussed in the legal studies curriculum about the changing nature of the law and the importance of community involvement. The VLRC is proud to be participating in the education of the next generation of community members who will shape the laws of the future.

This column is contributed by the VLRC. For further information ph 8608 7800 or see

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