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LAWS3161 History of English Private Law

Module Overview

The module aims to provide students with an introduction to the history and development of English private Law.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

This module will focus on the history of private law in England from 1066 to the present; in particular, how law has developed throughout history to meet and address the changing requirements of the people.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • the development of English law, the courts, and the legal profession from 1066 to the present
  • the connection between social history and law; in particular, the way law develops and adapts to changes in the economic basis of society.
  • the importance of history and theory in understanding law’s development
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse the historic roots of current English law.
  • construct arguments clearly and coherently on the background and development of the law in specific areas of English law, the development of the courts and the legal system.
  • identify the ways in which social and economic history influences the development of the law.
  • critically evaluate current rules of law and trace the way they developed to respond to changes in society that demanded changes in the law
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • locate appropriate materials and use these to formulate and address research questions.
  • contribute to informed debate topics and relate them to current developments.
  • conduct a piece of independent research under pressure of time


The module starts with the development of the court system, with the switch from a community-based legal system to a centralized, court-based system. We then look at the forms of action, writs, and pleading, which were very important until the late 19th century, as well as the various courts that developed, including chancery. The section on courts and procedure concludes with a look at the legal profession and legal education. The substantive portion of the module begins with a fairly lengthy consideration of real property law, which includes a discussion of feudalism, as well as the development of the law of trusts and estates. Then we turn to a discussion of the historical development of the law of obligations, or contracts and tort, to use the modern terminology. This is followed by a section on the historical development of family law – marriage and divorce, where, among other things, we will look at the interaction of secular and church courts. The module will take a brief look at the relationships with criminal law, particularly at the issue of criminal penalties. The remainder of the module will focus on modern developments in the law, such as the rise of the modern administrative state, with a look at labour law and administrative law, and conclude with a brief reference to the wider historical, social, political and geographical contexts in which these developments are set and to which they respond.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include Lectures/Seminars (Weekly) The module is taught by a series of ten two-hour weekly lectures/seminars, 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. The lectures/seminars 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, historical, social and political 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/seminars. • Participating in class discussion (including small group work).

Preparation for scheduled sessions68
Completion of assessment task50
Wider reading or practice12
Total study time150





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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