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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

Module Aims

The course has three related purposes: • to give LLM students a clear picture of how a common lawyer works with the law, and of how that mode of working is affected by the sources and methods of the common law; • to increase the confidence of LLM students in your use of the English language in a legal context; • to offer each participant an understanding of common law methods, both in terms of how it develops its principles and of how it responds to problems. The object ultimately is to assist our students, with the ability to work on their chosen options in the LLM. The course is taught largely by Paul Todd, who has been teaching on LLM courses for 30 years, and is aware of the problems that some students face in adapting to the common law approach. This year he is teaching International Commercial Arbitration. A number of other academics are also involved, to give students a flavour of different teaching methods across the School.

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.

Special Features

This is an introduction to legal skills which you will use throughout the year in your studies. The course is not an end in itself, but is intended to be continually used and built on. It concentrates on the sources of common law, how law is made, how it is interpreted, and so on, which are quite different to that to which students may be accustomed, if their background is in civil law. Students will also get to appreciate that the role of the lawyer includes arguing about what the law is, or what it should be, and is by no means restricted to applying a set of rules made by someone else. The course also looks at a number of substantive areas, selected because they illustrate the ideas examined in the early part of the course.

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

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

Ewan MacInyre. Business Law. 


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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