Famous Trials in Legal History


Ploice News drawting from the Trial of Oscar Wilde 1895Overview:
Examine case studies of famous historic trials in New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America and analyse what they tell us about legal, social and political history. You will examine the UK trials of conscience like those of Thomas More and Oscar Wilde; the well-known New Zealand murder trials of Minnie Dean and Arthur Allan Thomas; the influential Treaty of Waitangi cases of Wi Parata and the New Zealand Māori Council; and the racially-charged American trials of Dred Scott and Scottsboro.

You can choose to attend the whole series or to enrol in individual sessions ($40 per session).

Recommended reading list:

  • Robert Bolt, “A Man for All Seasons”
  • H. Montgomery Hyde, “The Trials of Oscar Wilde”
  • J.O.P. Watt, “The Trial of Minnie Dean”
  • David A. Yallop, “Beyond Reasonable Doubt? An Inquiry into the Thomas Case”
  • Dan T. Carter, “Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South”

Target audience:
This course is for anyone interested in history and law.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will:

  • Gain a knowledge of basic legal history from three different jurisdictions;
  • Learn to appreciate the law in its historical context;
  • Gain a greater understanding the importance of the rule of law and due process.

Course outline:
Each session includes a lecture presentation with time for questions and group discussion.

Session 1
UK trials (issues of conscience) – Thomas More, Oscar Wilde

Session 2
NZ trials Part 1 (murder) – Minnie Dean, Arthur Allan Thomas

Session 3
NZ trials Part 2 (Treaty of Waitangi) – Wi Parata v Bishop of Wellington, NZ Maori Council

Session 4
US trials (slavery and race) Dred Scott, Scottsboro

There is a short break halfway through each session and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Grant Morris is Associate Professor in Law at Victoria University of Wellington. His research and teaching areas include legal history, mediation and negotiation and he has published several books and numerous articles on these subjects. Dr Morris presents a fortnightly slot on RNZ looking at New Zealand history in context. He also coordinates the Faculty’s first year legal system course, LAWS121: NZ Legal System in Context.
PhD, LLB(Hons), BA(Hons).

Relevant links:
Faculty of Law

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email: conted@vuw.ac.nz

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.