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Year 11 Legal Studies go to court

On a visit to The Downing Centre this week, our Year 11 Legal Studies students were privileged to observe part of the Chris Dawson committal proceeding.

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An understanding of the way the courts work is important to the study of law and to all aspects of legal practice, as our Year 11 Legal Studies discovered this week on their excursion to The Downing Centre.

Lengthy media scrutiny, as well as the crime podcast The Teacher’s Pet, meant that many of our Legal Studies students were already familiar with the case against former PE teacher Chris Dawson, before they attended part of his committal hearing at The Downing Centre on Tuesday.  The committal hearing has now concluded and the magistrate has recommended that Mr Dawson stand trial for the alleged murder of his wife.

According to Head of Teaching and Learning Middle School and Legal Studies Teacher Ms Isbel, watching a real case unfold was beneficial to our students, helping them to think more critically about the practical applications of law, rather than just the theory.


“Year 11 have just started Basic Legal concepts within the broader topic of The Legal System. They’ve been looking at concepts such as fairness, court structures and processes, and personnel,” explained Ms Isbel. “We were extremely fortunate to attend court on a day when the Dawson committal proceeding was taking place. It was an invaluable experience for everyone.”

Observing this high-profile committal hearing play out enabled the students to experience the practical side of law, which can sometimes be lost when studying the subject as an academic discipline. But it was also invaluable for them to see the emotional impact of the law. They had an opportunity to observe a witness give evidence by video link and watch the personal interactions between the magistrate and barristers.

Our students were also able to engage with a magistrate on a range of topics, including the role of the judge and jury, the right to a fair trial, the complexity of sentences and judgements, and other issues that are relevant to the HSC Legal Studies curriculum.

Meredith (Year 11) said, “The excursion to the Downing Centre Local & District Court was very interesting, I think it really teaches you how the court actually works and the difference between local and district and supreme courts by seeing two of those courts. One of the most valuable parts of this was when I got to speak to a magistrate and ask her questions. She explained the legal system very well and taught me about the different sentences available at each court. I found the excursion interesting, especially learning more about the Chris Dawson case. Overall, it was a brilliant experience and I left with a much greater understanding of court.”

The visit to The Downing Centre also helped to inform Astrid’s understanding of the court system.

“I found the excursion to be an extremely insightful and engaging experience where I had the opportunity to learn a lot more about the court system in an interactive and exciting way. A highlight of mine was when one of the magistrates invited me nd a few other girls to sit at the Bar table and offered to answer any questions we may have about what we had seen throughout the day. She explained some of the key features of court proceedings to us. Overall, it was a very enjoyable day that I gained a lot of knowledge from.”

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Whether they are hoping for a law career or just want to improve the quality of their assignments, going to court was highly informative experience for all our Year 11 Legal Studies students. A huge thank you to Ms Campbell and Ms Isbel for organising the excursion.