Lesson 1: Introduction to Criminal Law


Activity 1: The Criminal Law

Provide each student with a copy of Handout 1: The Criminal Law.  Explain that they will be learning about the legal elements of crime, which they will then apply to case studies. Review the terms and clarify student questions using examples wherever possible.

 Assign the case studies on page 4 of the handout only after students have some comfort with the terms and concepts. Review the answers.

See Answer Key for Handout 1 in the Assessment section.

Activity 2: Criminal Court Procedure

Provide students with Handout 2: Criminal Court Procedure. This can be given in the preceding lesson as a homework reading assignment. Students may also look at www.CourtsofBC.ca for additional information. Hand out a copy of Handout 3: What Do You Know? to each student or alternatively assign section a, b, c and d to groups to complete. Conduct a review on individual questions or have the groups present answers on a whiteboard, overhead or chalkboard.

See Answer Key for Handout 2 in the Assessment section.

Activity 3: Criminal Offences and Criminal Defences

Give students Handout 4: Criminal Offences and Criminal Defences to read prior to class. Review the highlights with your students. Give out Handout 5: Working with Criminal Cases and have them complete it. They can work individually, in pairs or in groups. Students will apply what they have learned. After they have finished discuss the answers with the whole class for the first three pages. If you have time you can assign the fourth page for a homework assignment and have students do a class presentation.

See Answer Key for Handout 4 and Handout 5 in the Assessment section.

Activity 4: Morality and Criminal Law

This activity engages students in some critical thinking about morality and criminal law. Provide students with the following pre-reading questions to prepare them for the discussion on morality and law:

  1. Has society the right to pass judgment on public matters of morals?
  2. Ought there be a public morality or are morals a matter for private judgment alone?
  3. If society has the right to pass judgment, has it also the right to make laws that impose morality on the people?
  4. What principles should separate laws that deal with public moral issues (eg. pornography, prostitution, narcotics) and ones that regulate private moral conduct (sexual acts between consenting adults, internet use, production of narcotics)?

These are difficult questions for students and you will want to spend some time discussing them prior to allowing students to complete them. Begin the next class with a debriefing of student answers; you may want to assign groups and use a placemat activity to have them record some thoughts on public vs. private morality.

Hand a copy of Handout 5: The Wolfenden Report (1957) on morality and law and have the students complete a set of two-column or Cornell notes. Alternatively, have the class read the passage and use an active listening strategy to review the material and open a discussion. Keep the discussion to clarification of the salient points as the students will be conducting a free write to express their thoughts on the issue in the next step.

Provide each student with a copy of the Handout 6: Morality and the Law and complete the free write activity in class. If time permits run the continuum debate; if not set this up for the beginning of next class.

Continuum Debate

The continuum debate begins by selecting two students with opposing views on the role of the state in regulating private morality (conduct). Once you have two volunteers, have them stand at opposite ends of the classroom wall (you will need room enough for all of your students to stand shoulder to shoulder facing you; space permitting, students can also form a “U” shape and face each other).

From this point instruct all of the others to pick a place along the line that best fits how they feel about the topic - extremists at either end, those leaning to one side move to one end or the other and those uncertain or clearly on middle ground take up the centre. Now have each student (alter as time requires) present their viewpoint and one reason for holding that view. After all (or most) have spoken allow students to shift positions in the line based on changes to their thinking on the issue. Allow a maximum of 20 minutes before ending the debate.

Read, Reflect and Write

Move the students to the next activity reflecting on the reading and discussion to clarify their thinking on the issue of private and public morality. Review the quote in the Wolfenden Report on the role of criminal law. Inform them that this quote will be used to focus their thinking about criminal law in Canada. Have each student (or groups) choose a common moral issue like gambling, prostitution, pornography or narcotics and ask them to argue against making it a criminal offence. Create balance by assigning or manipulating which topics are chosen and in what number. Students use the guidelines on the handout to complete the writing on the issue and prepare to present their views to the class.

Devlin’s View of Vice (Optional)

The last activity can be completed as a bonus or assigned to students looking for enriched opportunities in class. Use the quote by Lord Devlin to have the student’s reflect on the nature of vice, exploitation, human weakness and the role of the state in protecting the weak, inexperienced, poor, immoral and immature. Students examine the issue of what creates vice (human weakness according to Devlin) but also tap into the question of state regulation of vice to protect both consumers and producers. The format you choose for the product may vary with the student (essay, oral presentation, PowerPoint slideshow or case study analysis).