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LAWS3069 Public International Law

Module Overview

International law is about trying to control the world and everything in it. It includes issues as diverse as a government’s treatment of its citizens (international human rights law), the circumstances in which a state can take military action against or in another state, and ongoing efforts to prevent catastrophic changes in the earth’s climate. This course will introduce you to the structures, processes, and rules of the international legal order. We will explore how, by whom, and with what results law has been used to shape or attempt to shape the world in which we live. We are concerned, in this course, not with any domestic legal order – English law, French law, Russian law – but with the law formed by and governing the conduct of states and other international actors.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• to develop a basic understanding of the nature, theory, rules, and principles of international law, the processes by which the law is made and applied, the means of determination of the law as well as the various processes for the settlement of disputes; • to develop an appreciation of the political, institutional and economic context of international law and the interplay of the various factors, including ethical considerations, and actors involved; • to provide an introduction to specific sectors of the law, to research methods and instruction on how to access a broad range of materials on the internet; • to provide an opportunity to develop skills of analysis and synthesis of a wide range of both traditional legal and other primary sources, including United Nations and governmental publications.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • the nature and functions of the international legal system;
  • the key sources of public international law;
  • fundamental principles of the law of treaties and of state responsibility;
  • the relationship between international and national law;
  • the concepts of statehood, international legal personality and recognition, and the rules on acquisition of territory;
  • the bases of states’ jurisdiction over places, events and persons and the immunities from it;
  • the basic elements of the law of the sea and the rules governing the use of force.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • construct arguments clearly and coherently in writing and/or orally through tutorial discussion;
  • express and assess the limitations of international law in a state-centred system and the challenges posed by political considerations to the rule of law in international affairs;
  • demonstrate independence of mind in the presentation and defence of an argument, both orally and/or in writing.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • present arguments in terms of international legal concepts, couched in appropriate terminology;
  • locate and analyse relevant primary and secondary source materials;
  • distinguish relevant from irrelevant materials;
  • identify and analyse key issues of international legal policy;
  • think critically, develop, communicate and defend coherent arguments orally and/or in writing.


The syllabus in any particular academic year will be drawn from the following list: History of and main theoretical approaches to international law; the United Nations and the structure of the international legal system; sources of international law; the law of treaties; the relationship between international law and national law; statehood, personality and recognition; title to territory; the law of the sea; jurisdiction and immunities from it; state responsibility; legal regulation of the use of force; international environmental law; international human rights law.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: The module is taught by way of one two-hour lecture per week, plus fortnightly tutorials lasting one hour. Lectures will develop: • The structure and nature of the international legal system and the key applicable principles and rules of law in the field of public international law; • The key areas of controversy and doubt concerning those principles and rules; • Prospects for future developments in the field. Learning activities include: Preparation for and participation in tutorials and lectures will develop your: • Knowledge of the concepts, principles, and rules covered in the lectures; • Ability to manage and access a diverse range of primary and secondary sources of public international law; • Ability to critically evaluate those sources and to participate constructively in oral discussions concerning them; • Ability to assess competing theoretical explanations for current international law and to comment critically on international legal issues and debates; • Time management and research skills.

Wider reading or practice5
Follow-up work20
Preparation for scheduled sessions180
Completion of assessment task15
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

V. Lowe (2007). International Law. 

M. Evans (ed.) (2015). Blackstone’s International Law Documents. 

D. Harris & S. Sivakumaran (2015). Cases and Materials on International Law. 

M. Dixon (2013). Textbook on International Law. 





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 25%
Exam  (3 hours) 75%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 25%
Exam  (3 hours) 75%


MethodPercentage contribution
Exam  (3 hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


Recommended texts for this module may be available in limited supply in the University Library and students may wish to purchase the mandatory/additional reading text as appropriate.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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