Public International Law

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Stephen Humphreys

Additional Teachers: Professor Andrew Lang, Professor Gerry Simpson, Dr Devika Hovell, and Dr Chris Thomas.


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BSc in Environmental Policy with Economics, BSc in International Relations, BSc in International Relations and History and LLB in Laws. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

This course provides an introduction to the concepts, principles, institutions and debates that define public international law today. We begin with an overview of the international legal system, considering how international law is made, how it relates to national legal systems, and what scope exists for pursuing those who violate it. In this connection we examine the work of the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the various ad hoc international criminal tribunals, along with judgments of national courts invoking international law. We then take up a range of topical issues of global concern, studying the ways in which they affect and are affected by public international law. The issues to be discussed include: war, trade and investment, climate change, and the protection of human rights, focussing in particular on the challenges presented by the current period of instability and uncertainty. We also investigate aspects of the history of international law, its role in relation to the establishment and retreat of European empires, and its contemporary significance and prospects. Overall, our aim is to lay the basis for an informed assessment of the contribution and limits of international law as a force in world affairs.


20 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT. 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of classes in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the MT and LT.

Students are expected to participate actively in weekly classes in addition to writing assignments during the year. All formative coursework is set by class teachers.

Indicative reading

Reading lists will be provided for each topic on Moodle. You are asked to buy M. Evans (ed.), International Law (4th ed., 2014) and Blackstone’s International Law Documents.

Some other works to which you may wish to refer include: D. Harris, International Law: Cases and Materials; H. Charlesworth and C. Chinkin, The Boundaries of International Law; M. Shaw, International Law; M. Koskenniemi, From Apology to Utopia; V. Lowe, International Law; and J. Crawford, Brownlie’s Principles of Public International Law.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the main exam period.

Teachers' comment

The LL278 teaching team is delighted that 82% of our students last year would recommend the course to their peers. The course will be strengthened further this year with the arrival of Professor Gerry Simpson to deliver lectures in the Lent Term.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2016/17: 71

Average class size 2016/17: 15

Capped 2016/17: Yes (75)

Lecture capture used 2016/17: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills