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The University of Southampton

LAWS6038 Understanding the Common Law

Module Overview

Every year, the Southampton Law School welcomes many postgraduate students who already enjoy a rich legal training in civil law jurisdictions. But there are important differences between common and civil law, not necessarily in terms of result, but most certainly in approach and process. These differences have an impact both on legal practice and on the learning of the law. You must understand them in order to succeed in the common law modules. It is a huge mistake to assume that the methods you have used up to now will necessarily work. In order to enhance the LLM experience for our students, the School has, for a number of years, offered a course entitled Understanding the common law.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Sources of law;
  • Effect of European Law and the Human Rights Act 1998;
  • The case law method;
  • Principles of the law of contract.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand principles of interpretation of statutes and other legislation;
  • Understand how case law works, the precedent system, and the distinction between ratio decidendi and obiter dicta;
  • Understand the role in English law of textbooks, articles and other sources;
  • Understand the principles of the law of contract.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Read and understand cases;
  • Read and understand legislation.


• Sources of common law; • Difference between Codes and English legislation; • Legislation including EU law and the Human Rights Act 1998; • Sovereignty of Parliament; • Interpretation of legislation; • International conventions in English law; • International law and the UK; • Precedent, ratio decidendi and obiter dicta; • Principles of contract; • Privity of contract; • Remedies in commercial law; • Equity and the common law; • Introduction to Information Resources; • Being a student of common law.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• Lectures • Computer-based self-marking assignments • Seminars and interactive sessions with Q&A • Self study

Independent Study130
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Ewan MacInyre. Business Law. 

Gary Slapper and David Kelly. The English Legal System, 2017/18. 


Assessment Strategy

The module is not assessed. There are computer-based self-marked assignments (formative only).


MethodPercentage contribution
Self-assessment 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 core/recommended 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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