The University of Southampton

LAWS2033 Historical Development of the Common Law [AJ]

Module Overview

The ‘Historical Development of the Common Law’ module tells the story of the Common Law and its major developments through a study of some of its most prominent personalities, historical moments and decisive cases. The module charts the development and growth of law from its earliest beginnings in Anglo-Saxon England, through its various transformations, up to the present day – from the earliest extant code of the reign of King Aethelbert of Kent, through Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, and on through the great constitutional crises and conflicts of the seventeenth century. The emergence of civil liberties and the protection of universal human rights, as well as the troublesome relationship between people and power, freedom and authority, are all brought to life through a study of some of the field’s most important historical moments, personalities and cases. Selected works from across the field help to frame these discussions and provide an inspiring and entertaining means through which essential legal skills are encouraged and taught.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The module aims to provide you with an introduction to history and development of the Common Law, an understanding of the way that law has evolved and the range of factors involved in this evolution; as such, the module seeks to: - encourage critical understanding of relevance of legal history to the understanding of law today; - provide opportunities to identify and explore some of the broader theoretical issues that emerge from an examination of the historical relationship between different areas of substantive law; - demonstrate how and why law changes, the causes of legal change and different ways in which it is effected, through an investigation of selected topics, themes and issues in the history of the Common Law.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the origins, full scope and development of the Common Law
  • a wide range of major questions, issues and conflicts that have shaped the development of the Common Law
  • the importance of history and theory in understanding law’s development in depth
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • locate and analyse a wide range of relevant primary and secondary resources, together with relevant historical, philosophical and political materials
  • skilfully identify and summarise different types and forms of argument
  • capably construct, communicate and defend your own argument through a piece of independent research in a specific area under pressure of time
  • think critically and contribute with knowledge and ability to informed debate on a wide variety of current issues
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • assess critically with skill the fundamental claims and concepts and key theoretical perspectives that emerge in historical pattern in the study of law
  • comprehensively evaluate the potential of legal historical study for helping to understand, explain and address contemporary legal problems, issues and tensions
  • Thoroughly analyse the strengths and weaknesses of different arguments and perspectives and their relative merits for promoting and securing meaningful change within and across different areas of law


The subject areas covered during the module may differ from year to year but may include: - Henry II and the formation of the Common Law - Magna Carta: origins, legacy, myth - Property rights and the Charter of the Forest - Medieval Contract Law from Assumpsit to the Statute of Frauds - Constitutional crises and conflicts of laws - World Wars and human rights - Terrorism, the rule of law and the preservation of liberty

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include Lectures/Seminars (Weekly) and Tutorials (Fortnightly) The module is taught by a series of ten 2-hour weekly lectures/seminars and five 2-hour tutorials, which provide you with an overview of each substantive topic, highlighting key points and an opportunity to engage in discussion of key issues and problems, and an opportunity to explore key topics/areas in further detail. The overriding emphasis is on the development of critical reflection and analysis through consideration of major events, themes and topics. The lectures/tutorials are supported with a range of ‘handouts’ (made available electronically via ‘Blackboard’), which outline critical issues and required reading and provide questions and guidance for further study. You are encouraged to explore a wide range of both legal and non-legal resources from a variety of different legal, moral, political, historical and social perspectives. Learning activities include - Directed Reading (as per distributed reading lists) - Preparing and writing formative coursework, with critical self-reflection on your own performance throughout this process. - Preparation for lectures/tutorials. - Participating in class discussion (including small group work).

Preparation for scheduled sessions58
Wider reading or practice12
Completion of assessment task50
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

The principal library resources exist and are accessible through the Hartley Library’s existing holdings (including electronic).. 

The module will also be supported by provisions in the ‘Blackboard’ learning platform.. 





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  ( words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  ( words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  ( words) 100%
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