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Legal Studies greatest exam hits

A key to success in VCE Legal Studies is the ability to demonstrate strong knowledge of the theory, while also being able to apply the theory to specific scenarios appropriately. That is why it can be extremely helpful to analyse high scoring responses to examine exactly how they both show and competently apply strong theoretical knowledge, all in the space of a few lines.

In this article, our Senior Legal Studies lecturer Sara Doan walks you through two challenging, Study Design-compliant questions from past VCAA Legal Studies exams. Give the question a try first, before diving into her best tips, tricks and analyses of these questions and examples of high-scoring responses. 


VCAA 2013 Exam – Question 8 part a

The question 

Question summary

Discuss the extent to which committal proceedings are complicated and useful.

Question context

Committal proceedings are criminal pre-trial procedures that an accused of an indictable offence must go through before trial. In particular, the purpose of the committal hearing is to determine whether there’s evidence of sufficient weight to support a conviction for the offence charged. In the VCAA 2013 exam, many students were unable to address all parts of this question.

Question prompt

‘Committal proceedings are complicated and serve no useful purpose.’

Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with this statement.

Total mark allocation

5 marks 

Tips for answering the question 

We’re given a statement about committal proceedings, then asked to discuss the extent to which we agree with that statement.

Firstly, have a close look at the statement given. What are the two key points the statement says about committal proceedings?

Secondly, identify the key skill of the question. A key skill is a word that tells you how to structure your question, such as ‘explain’, ‘discuss’ or ‘evaluate’. Think about what the key skill in this question is asking you to do - is it asking you to simply explain committal proceedings or to instead explain its strengths and weaknesses?

Once you identify the two key points in the statement and the key skill of the question, put this information together to guide you in structuring your question!

The solution 

Suggested marking scheme 

  • 1 mark for one strength of committal proceedings relating to whether they are complicated
  • 1 mark for one weakness of committal proceedings relating to whether they are complicated
  • 1 mark for one strength of committal proceedings relating to whether they serve a useful purpose
  • 1 mark for one weakness of committal proceedings relating to whether they serve a useful purpose
  • 1 mark for stating the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement

Marking explanation 

Discuss questions are marked globally, meaning there’s no one set structure on how you can get full marks in a question.

There are two suggested marking structures above, but they are not exhaustive. No matter what structure you use (even if they are not the ones above), you must include: 

  • Two marks’ worth of strengths and/or weaknesses on whether committal proceedings are complicated
  • Two marks’ worth of strengths and/or weaknesses on whether committal proceedings serve a useful purpose
  • A sentence at the end (and preferably start) of your answer on the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement (e.g. limited extent, some extent, great extent)
  • Note: The number of strengths and weaknesses you use depends on the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement. However, for this question you must have at least one strength/weakness (i.e. you cannot have an answer of only strengths or solely weaknesses of committal proceedings).

Suggested approaches 

You could have approached answering this question in two different ways. 

Option 1
  • I stated the extent to which I agreed or disagreed with the statement
  • I explained one strength of committal proceedings relating to whether they are complicated
  • I explained one weakness of committal proceedings relating to whether they are complicated
  • I explained one strength of committal proceedings relating to whether they serve a useful purpose
  • I explained one weakness of committal proceedings relating to whether they serve a useful purpose
Option 2
  • I stated the extent to which I agreed or disagreed with the statement
  • I explained at least two strengths and/or weaknesses of committal proceedings relating to whether they are complicated
  • I explained at least two strengths and/or weaknesses of committal proceedings relating to whether they serve a useful purpose

High-scoring response

Option 1

I agree that committal proceedings are complicated and serve no useful purpose to some extent.

A weakness of committal proceedings is that they are complicated, especially when the accused does not have a lawyer. Committal proceedings involve several hearings where parties must adhere to the rules of evidence and procedure, such as the examination of witnesses in the committal hearing. However, a strength is that committal proceedings are not complicated when the accused has a competent legal representative who can help them understand its proceedings, which enhances access to the criminal justice system.

Another strength is that committal proceedings serve a useful purpose as they determine whether there’s evidence of sufficient weight to support a conviction for the offence (in the committal hearing). This means that cases without sufficient evidence are filtered out of the criminal court system, saving the time and resources of the County and Supreme Court. However, a weakness is that committal hearings are unnecessary, time-wasting and do not serve a useful purpose in cases that certainly have enough evidence to convict the accused, which can be shown by the hand-up brief. 

Therefore, due to the above strengths and weaknesses, I believe that committal proceedings are complicated and serve no useful purpose to some extent.

Option 2

I agree with this statement to a moderate extent. Although committal proceedings are complicated, they do serve a useful purpose in the criminal justice system.

Committal proceedings are complicated, especially when the accused does not have a lawyer. Committal proceedings involve several hearings where parties must adhere to the rules of evidence and procedure. In committal hearings, the examination of witnesses is difficult and the hand-up brief contains many documents, such as the prosecution’s summary of the facts and witness statements.

However, although committal proceedings are complicated, they do serve a useful purpose. Committal hearings in particular allow the Magistrate to determine whether there’s evidence of sufficient weight to support a conviction for the offence. This means that cases without sufficient evidence are filtered out of the criminal court system, saving the time and resources of the County and Supreme Court. Committal proceedings also give the accused an opportunity to test the strength of the prosecution’s case against them and plead guilty to some or all charges, enhancing fairness.

Therefore, I agree with this statement to a moderate extent because whilst committal proceedings are complicated, they still serve a useful purpose.

Common student errors 

  • Only referring to ‘complicated’ and not ‘useful purpose’, or vice versa
  • Only including strengths of committal proceedings and not weaknesses, or vice versa
  • Forgetting to state the extent to which you agree with the statement

VCAA 2014 Exam – Question 7 part b

The question

Question summary

Explain the significance of a High Court case that relates to the protection of rights.

Question context

The High Court has the power to uphold rights in the Australian Constitution when relevant cases come before it. The Legal Studies VCAA study design requires students to know of the significance of one High Court case interpreting sections 7 and 24 of the Australian Constitution, and one High Court case which has had an impact on the division of constitutional law-making powers. In the VCAA 2014 exam, many students did not choose the right type of case for this question, or explained other non-related examples, such as the 1967 Indigenous referendum. 

Question prompt

Explain the significance of one High Court case that relates to the constitutional protection of rights in Australia.

Total mark allocation

4 marks 

Tips for answering the question 

We’re given a question that asks us to explain the significance of one High Court case that relates to the constitutional protection of rights.

Firstly, we have to identify the right type of High Court case to explain. The question says that the case must relate to the “constitutional protection of rights”. This means that we can pick a case that interprets sections 7 and 24 of the Constitution since these sections relate to the right to vote and the right to freedom of political communication! 

Secondly, does the question ask you to explain the High Court case of your choice, or to explain the significance of it? Explaining the significance of the case involves going beyond the facts of the case and explaining how it has upheld a right in the constitution (e.g. the right to vote and/or right to freedom of political communication).

The solution 

Suggested marking scheme 

  • 1 mark for correctly identifying a High Court case that relates to the constitutional protection of rights and for introducing the facts of the case
  • 1 mark for explaining the facts of the case
  • 1 mark for explaining the decision of the case, referring to sections 7 and 24 of the Constitution
  • 1 mark for explaining the significance of the case, referring to how the case upheld the constitutional protection of rights in Australia

Marking explanation 

You can choose any case that relates to the constitutional protection of rights (i.e. sections 7 and 24 of the Constitution) for your answer. Some common examples include:

  • Roach v Electoral Commissioner
  • Australian Capital Television v Commonwealth
  • Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation

No matter what case you use, ensure that you: 

  • Clearly identify which case you’re using. You can either write the full name or an accepted shortened version (e.g. “Roach v Electoral Commissioner” or “the Roach case”). Some students went straight into the explanation of the case without identifying which case it was, and were unable to achieve full marks.
  • Focus on the significance of the case. Make sure you write 1-2 sentences on how the case has upheld a right in the constitution, referring to sections 7 and 24!
  • Don’t spend too much time explaining the facts of the case. Many students get into the trap of explaining too many facts of the case, then running out of time to explain the decision and significance of the case. Try to only pick the facts that are necessary to understand the decision and significance of the case.

Suggested approaches 

Which of the following points did you include in your answer?

  • I correctly identified a High Court case that relates to the constitutional protection of rights and introduced the facts of the case
  • I explained the facts of the case
  • I explained the decision of the case, referring to sections 7 and 24 of the Constitution
  • I explained the significance of the case, referring to how the case upheld the constitutional protection of rights in Australia

High-scoring response

Option 1

The right to vote was reinforced in the 2007 Roach case. Roach contested 2004 (which banned prisoners serving sentences over three years from voting in elections) and the 2006 (which banned all prisoners from voting in elections) legislation passed by the Commonwealth in the High Court. Based on ss 7 and 24 in the Constitution, which requires parliament to be chosen ‘directly by the people’ and upholds representative government, the High Court declared the 2006 legislation invalid (but still upheld the 2004 legislation). This was because excluding all prisoners from voting would mean that parliament wouldn’t be chosen ‘directly by the people’. This case was significant as it reinforced and upheld the constitutional right to vote and the notion of representative government, and recognised that this right could be limited for substantial reasons (e.g. serious criminal misconduct).

Option 2

Australian Capital Television v The Commonwealth upheld the implied right to freedom of political communication. In 1991, a Commonwealth law banned most political advertising on radio and television during election periods. Australian Capital Television contested the validity of this law in the High Court, and the court deemed the Commonwealth law invalid since it overrode the implied right to freedom of political communication. This was because the constitutional principle of representative government, which is from ss 7 and 24 of the Constitution, could only operate properly if people could freely communicate and hear about political issues. Otherwise, people wouldn’t be fully informed when voting in an election.This case and subsequent cases confirmed the implied right to freedom of political communication.

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