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Researching for the topic

The structure of your assignment and the planning of your research are both shaped primarily by your task. However, being clear about your objectives is not enough. You also need to be clear on what areas of law you need to research.

Look at the following assignment topic:

Choose a civil liberty that interests you. How adequately does the statute and common law which applies in Victoria and the Commonwealth protect that liberty? Compare the level of protection in Australia with that in some other country.

What do you need to find out in order to deal with each of the components of this assignment? You may feel you have very little idea, since this is an area completely new to you. However, you can identify a number of things through careful analysis of the topic. This provides a starting point for your thinking and research.

The following table lists some of the things you would need to know to deal with the assignment on civil liberty. These are only some examples, and you might like to think of others.

Assignment Tasks What I need to find out
Choose a civil liberty that interests you.
  • What counts as a civil liberty?
How adequately does the statute and common law which applies in Victoria and the Commonwealth protect that liberty?
  • What are the relevant statute and common laws in Victoria and the commonwealth?
  • What protection do the laws of Victoria and the Commonwealth offer?
  • Will I find this protection clearly stated somewhere, or will I need to interpret implications of existing law for the protection of this liberty?
  • What criteria can I use to measure "adequacy"?
Compare the level of protection in Australia with that in some other country
  • Which other country should I consider? Have any countries been particularly concerned with this civil liberty?
  • What is the protection offered by this country?
  • What criteria shall I use to compare the two countries? (How are comparisons usually made?)

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Look at the following assignment topic:

It has been suggested by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer in their article, 'Active Voluntary Euthanasia, Morality and the Law' (1995) 3 Journal of Law and Medicine 129, that the primary focus in determining the legal permissibility of medical end-of-life decisions should be the issue of patient consent rather than the subjective intention of the doctor or nurses. Comment critically on this position, referring to the current legal position in Victoria, and contrasting this with the approach taken in some overseas jurisdiction.

The table below sets out the two main tasks of this assignment. Consider what you might need to know to help deal with them.

Tasks in the assignment What I need to find out
Comment critically on Kuhse and Singer's position that the legal permissibility of medical end-of-life decisions should focus on the issue of patient consent rather than the intentions of doctors or nurses. Refer to the current legal position in Victoria.
What questions do I need to ask myself?
Contrast the position in Victoria with the approach taken in some overseas jurisdiction.
What questions do I need to ask myself?

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Tasks in the assignment What I need to find out
Comment critically on Kuhse and Singer's position that the legal permissibility of medical end-of-life decisions should focus on the issue of patient consent rather than the intentions of doctors or nurses. Refer to the current legal position in Victoria.
  • What reasons do Kuhse and Singer give for maintaining the focus of law should be on the issue of patient consent?
  • What grounds do they give for opposing the focus of law on the issue of doctor intention
  • What counter arguments are there against their position?
  • How can I decide which arguments are more persuasive?
  • What exactly is the current legal position in Victoria?
  • Why does it presently focus on doctor intention?
  • Are there legal reasons for seeking to change the current law, or only moral or social reasons?
Contrast the position in Victoria with the approach taken in some overseas jurisdiction.
  • What other countries are concerned with this issue?
  • What is the legal focus of the country I have chosen?
  • In what ways does it differ from Victoria?

Note the following points:

  • The questions you ask yourself at this stage may seem basic, but they give you direction. Issues will become clearer as you research your topic and you will find greater focus.
  • If you are clear what you are trying to do, you will read materials far more purposefully. You will notice more easily what is relevant. You will be clearer how you need to read specific texts. Are you looking for information explicitly contained in them, or do you need to 'read between the lines', interpreting what it might mean for your task?
  • Reading for and writing your assignment will involve you in using a number of legal skills you learn in your lectures. These include: interpreting the law, evaluating legal (and other) arguments, applying the law to new circumstances, and justifying claims you make (e.g. by appeal to the law).
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