A National Curriculum for Australian Judicial Officers

Unit Two The Law


At the very centre of a judicial officer’s work is the need to know and apply the law, both substantive and procedural. This can include the interpretation of statutes, the application of the common law, equity, international law and the law of evidence and procedure. Judicial officers need to have a sound understanding of the law, generally, but will also need to develop jurisdictional expertise. This will provide a judicial officer with an appropriate knowledge of the substantive and procedural law relevant to the matters that they will hear.

Aim of this Unit

Professional development activities should help judicial officers maintain their knowledge and understanding of the law and their capacity to apply the relevant law in their work, including being able to deal with evidentiary issues which arise in the court room.  Professional development activities can help judicial officers to keep up to date with changes and developments in the law and to refresh and deepen their knowledge and understanding of existing laws.  Of course, only part of the judiciary will be interested in any particular topic, depending on their area of work. In addition, these programs need not necessarily be confined to a particular court or tribunal and could be offered to judicial officers drawn from a number of courts or tribunals who have a common interest in the particular area of the law.

Application of the Core Dimensions

Substantive and Procedural Law

The primary focus of programs in this unit is to maintain knowledge and develop mastery of the law, both substantive and procedural. Programs that facilitate the development of jurisdictional expertise will be important.

Judge Craft Skills

Programs in this unit may consider what court room management and administration skills are critical to, or enhance, jurisdictional expertise. This may be particularly relevant for procedural law.

Social Context

Changes in the law may reflect aspects of society or the social contexts of those before the courts as parties, victims, accused or witnesses. They may also reflect developments in knowledge or in public policy, and consideration of these developments could usefully be included in programs, where appropriate.

Attitudes and Values

Programs in this unit may wish to include a consideration of how personal attitudes and values shape a judicial officer’s response to and perspective on changes in the law.

Core Judicial Qualities


The courts remain independent of the other branches of government and judicial officers are not subject to improper pressure or influence when making decisions. 10


This requires ‘treating like cases alike; a process which is free from coercion or corruption; ensuring that inequality between the parties does not influence the outcome of the process; adherence to the values of procedural fairness…and unbiased neutral decision making…’ 11


Being patient and respectful, allowing litigants to present their case and ensuring the absence of actual or perceived bias 12


open court principles, annual reports identifying expenditure, rights to appeal, as well as giving reasons, noting the variation in this value for those in leadership roles. 13


Ensuring the reasonably timely resolution of cases. 14


Maintaining an open rather than closed court as far as possible and providing clear and reasoned decisions that are publicly available as far as possible. 15


Having sound knowledge of the relevant law and procedure as well as good court craft skills 16


Displaying intellectual honesty, respect and placing the obligations of judicial office above personal interests both inside and outside the courtroom. 17


Doing justice according to law irrespective of the consequences or popularity of the decision 18


2.1 - Australia’s Indigenous People


These programs maintain and update judicial officers’ knowledge and understanding of those areas of the law relevant to their work.


These programs may encompass:

  • recent changes in the law, either legislative or case law 
  • newly introduced laws
  • recent developments in judicial practice
  • aspects of the law and the work of the courts which are the subject of debate or discussion.

In some cases, a particular course will be relevant for all judicial officers; in other cases, it will be relevant for particular jurisdictions or those working in particular areas of law.

2.2 - Statutory Interpretation


These programs maintain and update judicial officers’ statutory interpretation skills.


These programs may encompass :

  • consideration of relevant legislation
  • consideration of the leading authorities 
  • theories, rules and practical application of statutory interpretation
  • the legitimate use of extrinsic materials
  • significant developments in statutory interpretation

2.3 - Application of international law


These programs maintain and update judicial officers’ knowledge and understanding of the role of international law and its importance in the Australian context. This includes both treaty law and customary international law.


  • consideration of relevant domestic legislation and case law
  • consideration of international law incorporation
  • significant developments in international law and its incorporation
  • specific areas of international law and its incorporation in Australia

2.4 - Application of the rules of evidence


These programs maintain and update judicial officers’ knowledge and understanding of how the rules of evidence apply.


  • consideration of relevant legislation
  • rules of evidence and associated case law
  • consideration of the leading authorities 
  • history and source of evidence laws in Australia
  • the exercise of judicial discretion with respect to evidence
  • witnesses and evidence
  • principles that assist with proof
  • significant developments in evidence law
  • difficult areas of evidence law