BC Social Studies Lesson Plans

Evolution of Law

Law 12


Evolution of Law

Big Idea

Laws are interpreted, and these interpretations may evolve over time as a society’s values and worldviews change.

Essential Question

How have principles of law and justice changed over time and how do they differ today in different legal systems?

Learning Standards Content

Students are expected to know the following:

  • Structures and powers of the federal and provincial courts and administrative tribunals
    • Case and common law

Curricular Competencies

Students are expected to be able to do the following:

  • Assess and compare the significance and impact of legal systems or codes (significance)
  • Assess the development and impact of legal systems or codes (cause and consequence)

Core Competencies

I can debate the merits of different legal systems by using persuasive language and examples.

I can analyze early legal systems to identify key principles and commonalities.

I can collaborate to construct a comprehensive argument.

First People's Principles of Learning

Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
  • Using a Think Pair Share strategy, pose the question: What is law and why do we have it? Provide students with time to reflect before discussing with a partner, and then sharing ideas as a class.
  • Ask what would happen if we played hockey without rules (violence, disorder) or if there were no rules in school (chaos). After a short discussion, explain that when people form groups, they need to make rules to:
    • Keep people safe
    • Keep organized and achieve goals
  • Point out that laws are similar to rules: the main difference is that they apply at all times to all people in society. Ask students to identify some “regular” life activities that relate to law (i.e., renting an apartment, getting married, attending a protest, etc.) Discuss as a class using the handout “How Law Connects to Life”.
  • Explain that while many early civilizations relied on local customs and beliefs, some laws were eventually written down, or codified. Students will compare the early history of laws.
  • Provide students with the handout “Early Legal Systems”.
  • Using a Jigsaw strategy, assign students to one of three groups:
    • The Code of Hammurabi
    • Mosaic Law
    • Roman Law
  • Have students research and make notes on their assigned legal system using the handout.
  • Afterwards, have each student join two students who researched the other two early legal systems.
  • Provide each triad with the handout “Comparing Early Legal Systems”. Students will discuss the principles and areas of laws covered in each to fill out the three circles.
  • Ask students to record definitions for common law, case law, and civil law. Then discuss the following questions in pairs:
    • What is the principle of precedent?
    • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of precedent.
    • Define common law in your own words.
    • How is statute law a source of law?
  • Provide students with the chart “Common Law vs Civil Law” in order to identify the key differences in common law and civil law.
  • Provide students with the handout “Debate: Common Law vs. Civil Law”. Introduce the debate topic: Be it resolved that common law is a superior justice system than civil law.
  • Assign students to either the pro side or the con Explain the importance of collaboration when constructing their argument (research, main points) and rebuttals. Each group may choose to break down roles into researchers, organizers, speakers, etc.
  • Assess debates using the “Debate Rubric”.
  • Provide students with the articles Medieval Trials Great and Gruesome and Law and Order in Medieval England.
  • Have students prepare a pamphlet on one type of Medieval trial (i.e. trial by ordeal, trial by combat, etc.), explaining their purpose and legal justification.
  • Students can present their findings to a Social Studies 8 classes studying the Middle Ages.


See for reference: 


Medieval Trials, Great and Gruesome, law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/Medievaltrials/medievalaccount.htm.


Neal, J. 2021. “Law & Order in Medieval England.” Harvard Law Today, 1 Mar. 2021, https://today.law.harvard.edu/law-order-in-medieval-england/

Canada. 2017. “Where Our Legal System Comes From.” Canada's System of Justice. Ottawa:  Department of Justice. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/just/03.html

"Common and Civil Law Are Two Very Different Legal Systems." 2013. LawTeacher.net. All Answers Ltd. https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/common-law/common-and-civil-law-are-two-very-different-legal-systems-common-law-essay.php?vref=1


Cartwright, M. 2013. “Roman Law.” World History Encyclopediahttps://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Law/


“Code of Hammurabi.” 2018. Encyclopædia Britannica. , Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Code-of-Hammurabi


“Code of Hammurabi.” 2020. History.com. A&E Television Networks. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/hammurabi


Davison, C. 2017. “The Evolution of Canadian Law.” LawNow Magazine. Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta. http://www.lawnow.org/the-evolution-of-canadian-law/ 


“Guide to International and Foreign Law Research: Legal Systems.” LibGuides. University of South Carolina School of Law https://guides.law.sc.edu/c.php?g=315476&p=2108388


“Hebraic Law.” 1998. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hebraic-law


“Law of Moses.” 2021. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Moses.


Millner, M.A., Rheinstein, M., Glendon, M.A. Carozza, P. et al. 2020. “Roman Law.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Roman-law


Syam, P. 2014. “What Is the Difference Between Common Law and Civil Law?” School of Law. St. Louis, MO: Washington University. https://onlinelaw.wustl.edu/blog/common-law-vs-civil-law/ 



Murphy, T.G. 2010. 6th edition. “All About Law: Exploring the Canadian Legal System.” Toronto, ON: Nelson Education.

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Last Reviewed

March 01, 2023

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