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LAWS104 Foundations of Law and Legal Research , LAWS106 Criminal Law and Procedure

Unit rationale, description and aim

In this unit students will be introduced to selected issues relating to mental disorder and criminal responsibility. Students will examine the definition of mental disorder and the implications of this definition for clients. The law relating to mental impairment/insanity, diminished responsibility, infanticide and other specific areas will be examined. Students will examine the role of expert psychiatric and psychological testimony in relation to these issues, developing an understanding of the nature and ambit of such evidence as well as the manner in which it is constructed and delivered to the criminal courts.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe and critically evaluate the principles governing mental illness and criminal responsibility (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9) 

LO2 - Demonstrate an applied understanding of relevant legal principles to a range of different fact situations involving mental illness and criminal liability (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6) 

LO3 - Identify the current approaches taken Australia regarding the processing of mentally ill offenders through the criminal justice system (GA3, GA4, GA5 GA8,) 

Graduate attributes

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include: 

  1. History of Psychology and Legal Psychology 
  2. Mental Impairment / insanity 
  3. Infanticide 
  4. Marital Coercion 
  5. Biological Syndromes 
  6. Psychological Syndromes 
  7. Current Approaches in the criminal justice system 
  8. Mental Disorder Defences 
  9. Profiling and investigation 
  10. Expert Psychiatric and Psychological Testimony 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Mode:Lectures, tutorials, electronic consultation, library tasks and presentations or Online lectures and activities.  


Duration:3 hours per week over 12 weeks or equivalent.  Students are expected to spend 150 hours in total for this unit. 


This level two elective unit allows students to demonstrate knowledge, skills and understanding in a specialist area of law building on knowledge developed in the compulsory units.  


Our strategy is to encourage students to creatively engage with unit content and to apply Priestley knowledge in a specialist area of law.  


The unit is designed to be delivered in intensive, weekly mode or online mode. We have taken a blended learning approach to provide accessibility and flexibility to our students and a student focused approach that increases depth of learning and engagement through actively utilising LEO.  

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy is designed to assess knowledge, skills and understanding in a specialist area of law, and to apply knowledge developed in the compulsory law units to a specialist area of law.  


The assessment tasks for this unit are designed to demonstrate achievement of each of the learning outcomes listed. Theses may include but are not limited to essays, exams, problem questions, participation and presentations.  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Take Home Examination: The Take Home Exam requires students to answer a hypothetical problem that will be based on the material presented in lectures, workshops and tutorials during the intensive week. 


LO1, LO2 

 GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9 

Research Paper: This assignment requires students to undertake a research project on a key area of law reform.  


LO1, LO2, LO3 

 GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9 

Representative texts and references

Brianna Chesser, Criminal Courts and Mental Illness (Thomson Reuters, 2016). 

A Kapardis, Psychology and Law: A Critical Introduction (4th Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). 

MA Nolan and J Goodman-Delahunty, Legal Psychology in Australia (1st Edition, Pyrmont: Thomson Reuters Lawbook Co, 2015) 

JRP Ogloff (ed) Taking Psychology and Law into the Twenty-First Century (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2002) 

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