module specification

LL6005 - Public International Law (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title Public International Law
Module level Honours (06)
Credit rating for module 30
School Guildhall School of Business and Law
Total study hours 300
219 hours Guided independent study
81 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 40%   2500 word essay
Coursework 60%   Research paper of 3000 words
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Year City Monday Afternoon

Module summary

International law is increasingly important to states, organisations and individuals, and impacts on every aspect of modern life.
This 30 credit module will provide students with a thorough knowledge of the key concepts of international law such as the sources of international law, the definition of statehood, the principle of self-determination, states’ acquisition of title to territory and jurisdiction over territory and people, state responsibility for unlawful acts, and states’ use of force.  Students will also be given a solid grasp of some key areas of substantive law such as Law of the Sea and other topical areas.
Knowledge of the key principles and substantive topics will be matched with understanding of the operation of international law in the real world.  Students will be encouraged to approach the subject critically and to develop their analytic skills to the highest level.
The module will introduce students to the current debates and challenges in this subject, with a focus on topical examples which will bring the subject to life and motivate students to explore the subject more fully.
Teaching will be by a combination of lecture, seminar (academic discussion) and workshop (developing academic and transferable skills such as critical thinking and oral and written communication skills).
Assessment is by a combination of examination and coursework essay.
The module will be of interest to all students who take an interest in current affairs, international relations, the international order, international peace and security.
The module is relevant to a wide range of careers in law, government, politics, international relations, the media, and international business.

Module aims

The module aims to:
Introduce students to international law and its role and importance to the international community;
Provide an accurate and detailed knowledge and understanding of the basic principles of international law and their application in the modern day context;
Provide a solid knowledge of one or more areas of substantive international law of topical interest;
Examine the operation of international law in the real world and identify the multiplicity of factors influencing the interpretation and application of the law;
Highlight and critically analyse the current issues and debates in international law;
Examine the ongoing development of international law and the factors influencing the direction of change;
Develop students’ analytic and critical thinking skills to a high level ;
Develop students’ competence in applying international law to a fictitious scenario to provide a solution to a problem.


Nature and history of international law
Introduction to the United Nations system and other international organisations
Sources of international law
- treaties and treaty interpretation
- formation of customary rules and jus cogens
      - general principles of law and other sources
Peaceful settlement of disputes in international law
-  by judicial means, including the International Court of Justice and other tribunals
-  by diplomatic means
Statehood and recognition of states. International personality of international
organisations, individuals, transnational corporations, and groups of people
Jurisdiction of states over territory, persons and events; and diplomatic Immunity
Acquisition of title to territory and modern boundary disputes
Legal regimes of the Polar Regions and Outer Space
Use of force by states
     - prohibition of the use of force and self-defence
     - the role of the UN and UN system of collective security
State responsibility for wrongful acts
Law of the Sea

It is intended that the teaching of the principles of international law be interspersed with examples of substantive international law. To keep the module current these may vary from year to year according to breaking issues or developments. Examples could include: war crimes and genocide, piracy and terrorism, rights of indigenous peoples, Palestinian statehood claims, NATO intervention in Libya, post-9/11 actions, etc.

Learning and teaching

A two hour weekly lecture followed by, alternately, a one hour seminar for which students must prepare and another hour the following week that will be in the nature of a ‘workshop’ on the same topic but without the need for further specific student preparation.  Blended learning will involve the directed use of online resources and other primary material, particularly in the ability to distinguish credible sources from ‘unreviewed’ online commentary.  Blogs, quizzes                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  , discussion groups and other blended learning resources will be made available as appropriate.

Students will be expected to attend all classes and participate as appropriate. They will also be expected to read more generally and widely in order to gain a better knowledge and understanding of the context in which international law operates today. A basic knowledge of 20th century history will be assumed and students will be expected to update their knowledge as necessary. Independent research will be required for the final paper and an ability to sift the wheat from the chaff.

There will be a session on the practicalities of writing a legal advice for a Foreign Ministry, based on the practice at the FCO, including a guest speaker. This module may lead to careers beyond legal practice, most particularly in foreign service, but also in NGOs, politics and the media. An awareness of the international world and how it works can have wide and unanticipated benefits.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will:
Have a detailed and accurate knowledge and understanding of the main principles of international law and one or more areas of substantive law of topical significance;
Have an awareness of the historical influences on the development of international law, and the political and other influences affecting interpretation and application of international law by the world community today;
Demonstrate competence in critically analysing the application of international law to current situations;
Demonstrate competence in identifying  the international law applicable to fictitious scenarios, and in applying international legal principles to solve a problem;
Have an awareness of the current trends and influences in the development of international law;
Demonstrate competence in the benchmark skills of subject knowledge and understanding, application of law and problem solving, analysis and critical judgment.

Assessment strategy

Two pieces of coursework:
- a 2500 word essay, concentrating on the principles of international law covered thus far, accounting for 40% of the final mark. Students will have a choice of three questions out of six or seven, in the style of exam questions. Students will be expected to show a critical understanding of the principles of the subject, as well as their application to fictional situations and continuing and changing relevance today.  – the final assessment, accounting for 60%, is a research paper of 3000 words on a topic to be agreed individually with each student on a substantive area or issue of international law, leading on from the topics on the main syllabus. A list of topics/questions will be set as guidance and independent research strongly encouraged, as well as a requirement for clear and accurate written communication and a critical focus on the legal issues in their political, economic and historical contexts.


Aust, A,  Handbook of International Law, (Cambridge University Press)
Dixon,  M, Textbook on International Law, (Oxford University Press) 
Dixon, M & R McCorquodale,  Cases and Materials on International Law, (Oxford University Press)
Evans, M, International Law Documents,  (Oxford University Press)
Evans, M ed. International Law, (Oxford University Press)
Harris, D, Cases and Materials on International Law, (Sweet & Maxwell)
Higgins, R, Problems and Process - International Law and How We Use It, (Oxford University Press)
Shaw, M, International Law, (Cambridge University Press)
Simma, B, Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, (Oxford University Press) (for reference)

American Journal of International Law
Proceedings of the American Society of International Law
International and Comparative Law Quarterly
British Yearbook of International Law
International Legal Materials
Reports of the International Court of Justice
International Law Reports  -  website of the United Nations  -  website of the International Court of Justice  -  website of the American Journal of International Law, short article pages