Lesson 1: Introduction to Civil Law



As a homework assignment, provide students with Handout 1: Introduction to Civil Law. They will use this information to answer the questions on Handout 2: What Do You Know About Civil Law?

Activity 1: Examining a Civil Case

Go over Handout 2: What Do You Know About Civil Law? with your students to ensure that they have a good understanding of Civil Law. Next, discuss these questions with your students:

  • Have you ever bought an item, such as a bicycle, from a friend?
  • What could you do if you couldn’t afford the bicycle right away?
  • Would you ask about a contract or loan?
  • What could you do if you couldn’t afford to pay the loan?
  • What would happen?

Once you have gone over Handout 2, you can either present the short civil case scenario outlined on Handout 3: Examining a Civil Case, or give students the handout to read themselves. The case describes a situation where a student purchases a bicycle on credit, but defaults on payments when he unexpectedly loses his summer job. Note that in a real situation, it would be up to the storeowner to decide whether to take the bike back or to sue for the amount owing. If s/he accepted the bike back s/he would probably not start a civil action. In criminal matters it is not up to the victim whether or not the case proceeds through the court process. Crown counsel initiates criminal proceedings. Once a matter has been initiated then only the Crown can prevent the matter from proceeding. However in a civil matter the plaintiff can call off the proceedings or settle with the defendant at any time.

After you present this scenario, you can ask students to consider the following questions:

  • What do you think will happen to George?
  • What do you think would happen if this case goes to court?
  • What would happen if George gave the bike back?

You can choose to have students break into groups to tackle these questions and then present their answers to the class or answer these questions as a class.

Activity 2: Comparing Civil Law to Criminal Law

Provide students with Handout 4: Civil Law vs. Criminal Law. They will use this information to answer the questions on Handout 5: Civil or Criminal? You Decide! as well as Handout 6: Civil and Criminal: Review. The answer keys to these handouts are located in the Assessment section.

Activity 3: Introduction to Alternatives to Civil Court

For this activity, provide students with Handout 7: Alternatives to Civil Court. They will use this information to answer the questions on Handout 8: Alternatives to Civil Court Questions.

Activity 4: Speakers Corner

Group students into pairs and distribute the Handout 9: Speaker’s Corner. Review the instructions on the sheet and then randomly assign each pair a scenario from those given at the bottom of the sheet. There may be some overlapping of topics (however, not all groups with similar topics will come up with the same strategy or rationale for resolving the dispute). Allow students sufficient time to prepare their speeches and then have student groups take turns presenting their speeches in front of the class, pretending they are on Speaker’s Corner. Speaker’s Corner does not have a specified format, so students have flexibility in how they choose to get their messages across to the wider public.

Descriptions of the three processes are provided in the answer key scenarios. The responses in the answer key also includes some basic considerations the students may respond with but other answers are possible. The answer key is in the Assessment section.

Activity 5: Watch the Paisley Snail Optional

Begin this activity by briefly reviewing the terms on Handout 10: Key Terms from the Paisley Snail. This will familiarize them with some of the terminology in the video. Afterwards, show The Paisley Snail video (approximately 42 minutes) to your students.

After the video is finished, explain to the class that the case arose in Scotland, which has “Roman law” system like Quebec and continental Europe, rather than a “common law” system as does England and English speaking Canada, and that it was ultimately decided in the House of Lords, the judicial members of which constitute the highest court in the United Kingdom. The House of Lords decided that on the point in issue the laws of Scotland and England were the same. This case has since been followed in Commonwealth common law jurisdictions around the world.

Lastly, distribute Handout 11: The Paisley Snail - Donoghue vs. Stevenson and ask students to answer the questions Handout 12: Questions on the Paisley Snail on as a homework assignment.

Activity 6: The Paisley Snail – Discussion Optional

Discuss the video that the students viewed during the last class, and go over the four principles of law that were laid down in Donoghue vs. Stevenson. Provide students with Handout 13: Principles in Donoghue vs. Stevenson as a part of the discussion or as a sum up.

If time permits, explore the legal issues involved by discussing the following questions. Answers to these discussion questions can be found in the Assessment section.

  1. Why has the concept of “neighbour” following Donoghue vs. Stevenson changed the law of negligence so much?
  2. Do you have to have a contract or some other special relationship with someone to sue them for negligence under the law of tort?
  3. What is the difference between “pure economic loss” and a loss resulting from personal injury or property damage? After all, both types of loss are compensated for in terms of money.