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The Drama of the Courtroom

The Drama of the Courtroom

By Kathy Laster, Krista Breckweg and John King

This innovative teaching resource lists films with significant courtroom scenes, illustrating the dramatic and tactical aspects of adversarial practice, including the demonstration of evidentiary rules in practice.

The structure of the filmography is divided into two parts: the subject index followed by the synopses of films (see samples below) and subdivided by jurisdiction.

The book encourages debate and discussion about the uses and role of law and its assumptions, its techniques of fact-finding and mechanisms for establishing truth. Covers civil and criminal law with a range of cases, from AIDS (Philadelphia) to war (Judgement at Nuremberg, QB VII), using films from the US, Great Britain, Australia and other countries.

Two examples from the book are provided below - see Extracts.


The Drama of the Courtroom is a filmography - a compendium of films in which courtroom scenes are integral to the plot. Titles are listed by subject matter and jurisdiction. An abstract of the plot, legal lesson, running time and counter numbers (laser disc and time mode) is included . . . It is a useful tool for educators who find value in popular culture. . . .
To the wider community, law provides a plethora of dramatic episodes. The human quest for 'justice' and the various interpretations thereof, create student expectations that law is dramatic. Courtroom films provide the main source of community knowledge of the law in practice but in many cases they do not represent 'real law' - how should this distinction be explained in the classroom if at all?
Laster's opinion is that 'the popularity of the film courtroom is an intriguing social phenomenon which demands better explanation.' The first section of this filmography explores the pedagogical applications of the courtroom. The thesis is that regardless of jurisdictional boundary, popular depictions of the law in practice can provide a valuable resource that promotes student learning.
For those educators who abhor the popular culture courtroom, this book is not for you. For educators who ascribe to the author's thesis, this is a must.

Proctor (Queensland Law Society), 2001


Crucible, The (1996)

Cast: Daniel Day Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen
Director: Nicholas Hytner; 115 min

Evidence - circumstantial; Capital punishment; Confessions - voluntariness of; Moral panic; Judges - bias; Religion - confession

This film depicts the notorious Salem witch trials in 17th century Massachusetts, raising issues of fairness, the credibility of testimony and the mental capacity of witnesses. There are several courtroom scenes (40:00; 1:02;00; 1:11;00) including scenes depicting confessions obtained under duress (30:00) and contempt of court (1:11:00).

Eye for an Eye (1996)

Cast: Sally Field, Ed Harris, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: John Schlesinger; 101 min

Homicide; Rape; Administration of justice; Burden of proof; Identification evidence; Victim - vigilante justice

A man is brought to trial for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl. Notwithstanding positive DNA evidence identifying the defendant, the case is dismissed at preliminary hearing (28:00). The evidence is ruled inadmissible (31:00) due to a procedural defect in the prosecution not having provided a sample of the evidence to the defence for the purposes of conducting their own tests. The distraught mother of the victim takes steps to achieve justice/vengeance, eventually killing the defendant in circumstances engineered to allow her a claim of self-defence.


Published May 2000
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781862873391
Australian RRP $27.50
International Price $25.00
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Law - Judges & Courts
Law - Evidence
Law - Culture & Law
Secondary School Resources

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