• Offered by ANU Law School
  • ANU College ANU College of Law
  • Course subject Laws
  • Areas of interest Law
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • Prof James Stellios
  • Mode of delivery Online or In Person
  • Co-taught Course
  • Offered in Second Semester 2021
    See Future Offerings

Building on previous public law studies, particularly Australian Public Law, this course deepens student understanding of key aspects of the Commonwealth Constitution and its judicial interpretation by the High Court. Particular attention will be paid to the historical, social and institutional forces which have helped shape the Constitution and the High Court's reading of it.

The course includes:

  •  the historical, social and institutional context of Australian constitutional law;
  •  the scope of Commonwealth legislative power, including the corporations power (s 51(xx)), the external affairs power (s 51(xxix)); the 'races' power (s51(XXVI)), the process of characterisation and the principle in the Communist Party Case;
  •  inconsistency between Commonwealth and State laws (s 109);
  •  federal financial powers and economic union;
  •  general principles and theories of interpretation;
  • the Engineers Case and implied intergovernmental immunities;
  •  the implied freedom of political communication; and
  •  the nature of judicial review and the role of the High Court.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Identify, explain and apply the fundamental legal principles covered in Commonwealth Constitutional Law
  2. Examine and interpret the appropriate constitutional provisions and legal authorities to support the explanation and application of constitutional principles in the course of problem solving
  3. Access, interpret and use government documents in the course of solving constitutional law problems
  4. Explain and critically evaluate the role played by the High Court of Australia in developing constitutional principles, shaping the federal system and protecting federal institutions of government
  5. Analyse and assess the impact that the High Court has had on the development of constitutional principles, the character of the federal system in Australia and the health of federal institutions of government
  6. Apply the critical thinking required to bring about solutions to complex legal problems and/or issues in the area of Commonwealth Constitutional law and communicate these solutions effectively

Other Information

Commonwealth constitutional law is normally taken in the third year of a combined degree and is taught entirely through seminars, rather than divided into lectures and tutorials.

Seminar time will be used flexibly in an effort to encourage participation and engagement with the course materials. Although there will be no separate ‘tutorial’ program, class time will be spent on problems and activities designed to prepare students for the assessment tasks (ie the take-home mid-semester exam and the final exam). There will be occasions when seminar leaders will do most of the talking, but all of the seminar leaders in the course are committed to a learning experience built on informed dialogue. For this reason, seminars will not merely summarise the reading material but will focus on an analysis of the cases and other primary materials.

For the seminar-style of teaching and learning to succeed, it is important for students to prepare for each and every classes. A document entitled ‘Seminar Plan’ will state the required reading and set out reading questions and problems which students should be in a position to discuss in class. Seminar leaders may also distribute further problems or questions they wish students to consider prior to class (which will be posted on the course Wattle page).

Although all seminars will be recorded, the seminar style of teaching means that we cannot guarantee that all of the discussion will be captured. The interactive style of the seminars is also intended to benefit those students who prepare for, and engage during, the seminar. We therefore encourage students to attend classes in person. If you must miss a seminar, you should prepare as normal so you can actively listen to the discussion in your regular seminar group. (Despite best efforts, sometimes classes may fail to record properly. If this occurs, the seminar will not be re-recorded.)

Indicative Assessment

  1. Optional online quiz available on Wattle. (0) [LO 1,2,3,4]
  2. Seminar participation (10) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  3. Mid-Semester take-home exam (30) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  4. End of semester examination (60) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


There will be three hours of seminars per week.

Students are generally expected to devote approximately ten hours overall per week to this course.

Inherent Requirements

Not applicable

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must be studying the Bachelor of Laws (ALLB, BLLBA), have completed or be completing five 1000 level LAWS courses and have completed LAWS1205 Australian Public Law.

Prescribed Texts

Meagher, D; Simpson, A; Stellios, J; Wheeler, F, Hanks Australian Constitutional Law Materials and Commentary (10th ed, LexisNexis, 2016)


Assumed Knowledge

It is strongly recommended that students have completed Administrative Law before enrolling in Commonwealth Constitutional Law.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $4170
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $5580
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

Second Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
5206 26 Jul 2021 02 Aug 2021 14 Sep 2021 29 Oct 2021 In Person View

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