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LAWS3139 International Law: How the World is Governed

Module Overview

The story of Public International Law is the story of historic and present-day efforts to address international issues of common concern – conflict within and between states, climate change, human rights abuses, international crimes, global trade, and control over and use of the world’s oceans, for example. In this module we will explore how international law works; how the world is – or, perhaps, is not – governed by international law. We will consider what international law is, its history and future, the purposes it serves, its interpretation and application, and its relationship with domestic (English) law. By taking this module you will gain an appreciation of law’s global context and an understanding of law’s function and effectiveness in addressing international challenges and threats. This appreciation and understanding will be valuable in any future career given the increasingly international nature of life today and especially useful for those hoping to work in large global law-firms.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

‘International Law: How the World is Governed’ aims, in general, to provide you with: • An understanding of how international law works – that is, the means employed by international lawyers and international legal institutions to address matters of international concern, resolve disputes, and create international law. • An understanding of what international law is – that is, the ability to explain and construct arguments on the basis of competing ideas about how international law exists and what it seeks to achieve. • An appreciation of law’s global context – that is, an appreciation of the various ways in which legal methods, practices and institutions are and have been employed to address matters of international concern. • A general understanding of international law’s function as a means of addressing matters of international concern. • An awareness of international law’s socio-political context and history and an appreciation of the relevance of that context and history to the creation, interpretation, and application of international law. More specifically, the course will be structured around the following learning outcomes:

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The development of international law over time to ably place the current international situation in its historical context.
  • The relevance of international law’s socio-political context and history to its nature and function through thorough knowledge of a range of theoretical approaches to and understandings of these.
  • The full spectrum of methods and processes by which international law is made by adeptly identifying, interpreting and applying international legal rules and principles
  • The rules of state responsibility determining the circumstances in which a state may be held liable for its conduct and in detail the legal consequences that flow from it being held liable.
  • The breadth of international legal rules concerning treaties and their application to factual scenarios.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Construct comprehensive arguments through the analysis of relevant legal materials and literature.
  • Adeptly apply the legal rules and principles studied on the module to factual scenarios.
  • Skilfully critically analyse academic literature on international law and thoroughly situate your argument in relation to the arguments or positions advanced in that literature.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate developed skills of self-management including an ability to reflect on the content and quality of your own work.
  • Make acute critical judgments about international legal materials and relevant literature.


The following topics are indicative of those which will be covered. Changes in content or order may be necessary from year to year and the precise content of the course in any particular year will be confirmed in a module overview document which will be distributed via the course blackboard site before the first lecture): 1 – The Nature and Structure of International Law 2 – The Sources of International Law 3 – The Law of Treaties including: • the definition of a treaty; • the formation of a treaty; • the interpretation of a treaty; • the circumstances in which states may enter a reservation to a treaty and the consequences of doing so; • the circumstances in which a treaty can be revised (i.e. amended); • the circumstances in which a treaty is invalid or can be terminated or suspended; 4 - The Law of State Responsibility 5 – Jurisdiction and Immunity from Jurisdiction 6 – The Relationship between International Law and Domestic Law 7 – International Legal Personality, Statehood, and Recognition 8 – The Politics of International Law: ‘Sovereign Independence’ vs. ‘The International Community’

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: Teaching will be delivered in 2-hour lectures, one per week. Lectures will provide you with an overview of the law and the key principles / issues relevant to particular topics. After each lecture, and before the relevant tutorial, discussed below, you will be expected to complete independent study including reading of literature, cases, and international legal materials. You should refer to, and be guided by, the content of the lectures in carrying out this independent study. Learning activities include: There will be ten 1-hour tutorials – one per week commencing in the second week of the module. Tutorials will focus on questions supplied in advance. You will be expected to prepare answers to these questions and to come to the tutorial prepared to share their answers with the class in order to receive feedback from fellow-students and the tutorial leader. For some tutorials you may be asked to prepare a short presentation or to complete a short piece of written work. The ultimate objective of the tutorial programme is to maximise your performance in the summative assessments. To maximise your performance in those assessments you should prepare thoroughly for and participate actively in each tutorial.

Completion of assessment task16
Preparation for scheduled sessions70
Follow-up work7
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

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

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

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



Problem solving


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (2 hours) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (2 hours) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (2 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:

Books and Stationery equipment

Total costs should not exceed £90 unless publishers' prices increase significantly.

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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