Lesson 4: Legal Independence and the Rule of Law


Grade Level 8-10
Duration 1 period

Lesson Plan (PDF)


This lesson will introduce students to judicial and lawyer independence, as well as the rule of law. Judicial independence has been defined in many ways, but it basically involves the freedom to make judicial decisions without interference or influence from any source. It is the constitutional right of every Canadian to have his or her legal issues decided by a fair and impartial judicial decision-maker. The term “lawyer independence” means that lawyers are able to act in their client’s best interest without fear of interference. A lawyer must be free to put the client’s interest first, free from political or governmental influence, pressure or control. The legislature does not decide who can become a lawyer nor can it prevent a lawyer from practicing law or representing a particular client.


By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Learn what the difference between rules and laws is.
  • Learn that the concept of “the rule of law” is the foundation of Canadian society and ensures that everyone is treated equally before the law.
  • Be able to explain the three principles of an independent judiciary in Canada – independence, impartiality and accountability.
  • Know that the role of judges and lawyers in our society is to protect the rule of law.
  • Understand that Lawyers and judges act independently of government/the state (e.g. the doctrine of separation of powers) and other external interests.
  • Discover that Judges are free to make decisions about cases before them without fearing that their continued appointment as a judge depends on the “favour” of the state.
  • Apply what they have learned to case studies.

Focus Questions

  1. What is the difference between rules and laws?
  2. Why is our legal system built on the rule of law?
  3. Why is it important to have an independent judicial system?
  4. What are the three principles of an independent judiciary in Canada?
  5. How are judges appointed?
  6. What is “lawyer independence” and why is it an important part of our justice system?

Teaching Summary

Topic 1: The Rule of Law

Students will discuss the difference between rules and laws and complete the questions on Handout 1: Rules and Laws. This topic is also covered in Handout 2: The Rule of Law and Judicial Independence.

Topics 2, 3 & 4: Judicial Independence, Judicial Appointment & Lawyer Independence

Students will play a game in groups. They will read Handout 2: The Rule of Law and Judicial Independence and Handout 3: Lawyer Independence in preparation for the game. It is similar to the game show Jeopardy (i.e. students are given answers and asked to provide the relevant questions).

Next, students will watch a video on legal independence which covers many of the issues using a fictitious curfew law.

Topic 5: Legal Independence Case Studies

Students will look at two cases studies on legal independence. The first case (Smith vs. Jones) is about a pub owner who sued the Attorney General of BC for seizing his liquor licence, which subsequently forced him to sell his business.

The second will cover looks at a case called Judges in Nazi Germany and will look at lawyer independence.