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AOS 2. Court processes and procedures, and engaging in justice.

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Court processes and procedures, and engaging in justice

  • Dispute resolution through courts operating under the adversary system of trial is characterised by formal processes and procedures that must be adhered to by all parties involved with the case. Students investigate the major features of the adversary system of trial, and aided by a comparison with the inquisitorial system of trial, evaluate the adversarial approach to dispute resolution. They also examine criminal and civil pre-trial and post-trial procedures. Students investigate the role of criminal and civil juries, consider their strengths and weaknesses, and suggest reforms and alternatives applicable to the current jury system.

  • Throughout their investigation of court processes and procedures, students assess the extent to which these processes contribute to an effective legal system.

Area of Study 2

  • On completion of this unit the student should be able to explain the processes and procedures for the resolution of criminal cases and civil disputes, and evaluate their operation and application, and evaluate the effectiveness of the legal system.

  • To achieve this outcome the student will draw on key knowledge and key skills outlined in Area of Study 2.

Outcome 2

• the elements of an effective legal system: entitlement to a fair and unbiased hearing, effective access to the legal system and timely resolution of disputes

• major features of the adversary system of trial, including the role of the parties, the role of the judge, the need for the rules of evidence and procedure, standard and burden of proof and the need for legal representation

• strengths and weaknesses of the adversary system of trial

• major features of the inquisitorial system of trial

• possible reforms to the adversary system of trial

• criminal pre-trial procedures and their purposes, including bail and remand and committal hearings

• general purposes of criminal sanctions

• an overview of three types of sanctions and their specific purpose

• Supreme Court civil pre-trial procedures, including pleadings, discovery and directions hearings, and the purposes of these procedures

• the purpose of civil remedies

• types of civil remedies, including damages and injunctions

• the role of juries, and factors that influence their composition

• strengths and weaknesses of the jury system

• reforms and alternatives to the jury system

• problems and difficulties faced by individuals in using the legal system

• recent changes and recommendations for change in the legal system designed to enhance its effective operation.

Key knowledge

• define key legal terminology and use it appropriately

• discuss, interpret and analyse legal information

• apply legal principles to relevant cases and issues

• critically evaluate the adversary system of trial

• compare the operation and features of the adversary system with the inquisitorial system

• describe the pre-trial procedures for the resolution of criminal cases and civil disputes, and compare their relative purposes

• discuss the ability of criminal sanctions and civil remedies to achieve their purposes

• critically evaluate the effectiveness of juries

• suggest and discuss reforms and alternatives to the adversary system and the jury system

• evaluate the extent to which court processes and procedures contribute to an effective legal system.

Key skills

  • The word adversary means opponent or competitor

  • The adversary system of trial is a contest, where the parties fight to win.

  • The adversary system is the system of trial used by most courts in Australia.

The adversary system of trial

Adversary system of trial is a contest between the parties

The adversary system involves:

  • Key words: ACTIVE and CONTROL

  • Parties have control over how they present their case

  • They decide when to commence proceedings, what evidence to bring, what law to argue, what witnesses to call, and what questions to ask those witnesses

Feature No. 1:The role of the parties

Parties decide what witnesses to call

Strengths and weaknesses of this feature of the adversary system


  • The judge presides over the court, ensuring the rules of evidence and procedure are followed.

  • If a jury is used, the judge may explain the law to them.

  • The judge listens to the arguments presented by the parties and makes an unbiased decision.

Feature No. 2:The role of the judge

A judge is meant to be fair and unbiased

Strengths and weaknesses of this feature

  • Keywords: STRICT, COMPLEX

  • Rules of evidence govern what evidence is admissible and inadmissible.

  • Rules of procedure govern how the trial is run.

Feature No.3:The rules of evidence & procedure

Strengths and weaknesses of this feature


  • The burden of proof is on the plaintiff or the prosecution. They bring the action and so have the responsibility to prove it.

  • The standard of proof is the amount of proof required: on the balance of probabilities (civil) or beyond reasonable doubt (criminal)

Feature No. 4: The burden & standard of proof

The burden of proof is on the plaintiff or prosecution

Strengths and weaknesses of this feature


  • Because of the other features of the adversary system, legal representation is vital is gaining a proper chance of success

Feature No. 5:The need for legal representation

Solicitors and barristers are necessary for success

Strengths and weaknesses of this feature

The Inquisitorial System

  • A method of legal practice in which the judge endeavors to discover facts while simultaneously representing the interests of the state in a trial.

    It is the system used in many civil law countries (as opposed to common law) such as France and Spain, and some Australian courts such as the Family Court and Coroners Court.

Definition of inquisitorial system

Features of the inquisitorial system

Unlike the adversary system, the inquisitorial system is not a contest but more like an investigation


  • Parties observe proceedings and can have input via statements and making requests of the judges, but they do not control proceedings or evidence

  • Strength: The burden is taken off parties, so it is less stressful and expensive for them

  • Weakness: Parties may feel at the mercy of the judges, and therefore less satisfied with the decision

Comparison with adversary: role of the parties


  • The judge (or panel of judges) exercises almost complete control over the case. They collect and examine evidence, choose which witnesses to hear from, and decide both the relevant law and the facts

  • Strength: The judge’s expertise is used and parties are not able to hide or manipulate unfavourable evidence

  • Weakness: The judge may lose some of their impartiality, being so involved in the investigation. Also, the judge does not have to investigate angles the parties think are important

Comparison with adversary: role of the judge

  • Keywords: FLEXIBLE, LOOSE

  • Rules of evidence are almost non-existent: hearsay, prior convictions and written evidence are all allowed. Rules of procedure are not necessary, as the judge conducts proceedings.

  • Strength: Parties do not have to navigate complex and stressful procedures. All relevant evidence is taken into account.

  • Weakness: Evidence such as prior convictions may be unfairly prejudicial to the defendant. Documentary and hearsay evidence cannot be tested thoroughly.

Comparison with adversary: rules of evidence & procedure


  • There is no formal burden of proof, as the judge investigates both sides of the case simultaneously. There must still be significant evidence to show that the defendant was at fault.

  • Strength: The injured party does not need to bear the burden of conducting the case. Unfounded criminal or civil claims should still not succeed.

  • Weakness: Because the defence’s case is examined before fault has been proved, the idea that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty is not felt strongly.

Comparison with adversary: burden and standard of proof


  • Legal representatives support the parties, explain proceedings to them and can make requests of the judge. They may also assist the judge with investigating the case.

  • Strength: A party’s success does not rely on their legal representation, so it decreases costs and doesn’t benefit wealthier parties as much.

  • Weakness: Parties cannot choose the person they trust the most to argue for them and give them the best chance of success.

Comparison with adversary: need for legal representation

Which one is better? Adversary system or inquisitorial system?

Criteria for an effective legal system

Recent reforms to the adversary system adopted aspects of the inquisitorial system

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