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LAWS3129 Advanced Public Law

Module Overview

Public law is of the highest importance to individuals, defining the institutions which exercise the power of the state, setting the rules which govern their interaction and determining manner in which they relate to the individual, and the redress that the individual has against unlawful exercises of its power. Though one of the defining characteristics of the United Kingdom’s constitutional order is its long heritage and remarkable stability, the last two decades have seen a number of significant changes in the constitutional sphere which, taken together, mean that public law now differs significantly from its traditional nature: the context in which many of its key rules and ideas were formulated no longer exists. An appreciation of the way in which public law has adapted (and has been adapted) in order to meet these changing circumstances, as well as the forces which are driving its further development, is of the highest importance to achieving a clear understanding of the nature of the state and the individual’s position in relation to it. This module will communicate a picture of modern public law through the examination of those topics which are most relevant to its recent and on-going development. It deals with question such as the contemporary status of the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty; the way in which the constitutional principle known as the rule of law has been implemented within case law; and the basis of judicial review. It addresses key areas of substantive public law which have driven constitutional development in recent years: these include, indicatively, the legal system’s responses to the challenges of terrorism and consequent clash with the principle of open justice; the emergence of a jurisprudence dealing with the devolution settlements since 1998; and attempts to limit the availability of judicial review. In recognition of the fact that the British constitution is to a considerable degree a creature of ideas, the course contextualises these legal and doctrinal questions within the various theoretical disputes which underpin and influence the dynamics of public law in the United Kingdom.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Build upon the knowledge of public law that you acquired within the compulsory first-year Constitutional and Administrative Law module by considering key topics in greater depth and in their theoretical context and by addressing central issues of public law that will be new to you. • Provide you with the knowledge necessary to appreciate the recent development and current status of the United Kingdom’s constitutional order and the practical and political considerations which have driven that development. • Encourage you to consider questions of public law in their political and theoretical context in order to achieve the fullest possible understanding of what is at stake in the constitution.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The key ideas of the United Kingdom constitution and their theoretical bases.
  • The substantive difficulties and disputes which have driven the development of public law rules in recent times and the manner in which the courts have dealt with them.
  • The manner in which political and legal actors interact within the constitutional order and the manner in which this interaction drives the development of the constitution.
  • The theoretical perspectives which stand as the background to public law disagreements and which underpin particular contributions to these debates.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate the substantive rules and processes which make up the constitutional order according to their own professed logic and according to a number of important theoretical positions.
  • Comment upon the interaction of law and politics within constitutional orders and evaluate the contribution each makes to development of public law.
  • Critically evaluate the manner in which constitutional actors have responded to a changed political context in recent years.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Read and understand complex texts.
  • Critically evaluate others’ arguments.
  • Develop and present a written argument with appropriate evidence.
  • Effectively research, organise and manage an independent project using available primary and secondary, electronic and paper sources.
  • Evaluate the material obtained from primary and secondary, elec


Public law is the law which regulates the governmental structures of the state and their relationship to the individual. It comprises both constitutional law, the fundamental question of what powers exist and how they are divided between the three branches of state, and the administrative law which governs the possibility of challenging the legality of action taken by the executive and, at times, the legislature. The United Kingdom’s constitution is famous for its particularity: its unwritten and uncodified nature, its long history and organic development, and the presence of a legislature which is unlimited by any fundamental law. It is organised around a series of fundamental principles – the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law, for example – which frequently come into conflict and whose on-going validity has been called into question by developments in recent years. These developments include the rise and spread of so-called common law constitutionalism, the continuing evolution of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union and the increasing willingness of courts to consider questions which would have been regarded as being so politically controversial as to make them unsuited for judicial resolution. Similarly, the body of common law rules which constitute the bulk of traditional administrative law has continued to develop at a fast pace, but there remains considerable uncertainty as to the exact formulation of the applicable grounds of review and the limits which exist upon the High Court’s supervisory jurisdiction when dealing with the exercise of powers in areas of policy with which the courts have usually been hesitant to engage. These ambiguities are exacerbated by the failure to achieve a consensus as to the justificatory basis of that jurisdiction. This feeds, in turn, into an uncertainty as to the possibility of circumscribing or even abolishing that jurisdiction. This module requires students to develop a sophisticated understanding of contemporary public law by engaging with key elements of both its constitutional and administrative facets in the context of the theoretical disputes which underpin them. As an indication, therefore, key topics considered in the module will include: • The origins of the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty, its orthodox form and the challenges which it has faced in recent decades. • The work done by the rule of law ideal within the constitution, including the question of whether the achievement of that ideal requires that we abandon the idea of Parliamentary sovereignty. • The on-going debate between those identified as legal and political constitutionalists and its consequences for the organisation of the constitution. • The origins of the judicial review jurisdiction of the High Court and the consequences of the way in which we justify that jurisdiction for the substantive law of judicial review and the question of if and how that jurisdiction might be abolished or curtailed. • The relationship between the rights recognised at common law and the Human Rights Act 1998.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Weekly seminars of two hours’ duration, discussing primary materials and appropriate secondary texts. Learning activities include: • Directed Reading (as per distributed reading lists). • (Management of) independent research (for coursework). • Preparing and writing formative coursework and self-reflection of that process. • Preparing and writing summative coursework. • Preparation and delivery of oral presentation. • Class discussion (including small group work).

Wider reading or practice10
Completion of assessment task50
Preparation for scheduled sessions68
Total study time150





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%
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