LL109      Half Unit
Introduction to the Legal System

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Nicola Lacey and Prof Neil Duxbury


This course is compulsory on the BA in Anthropology and Law 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

The course is designed as a foundation course to familiarise law students with the basic characteristics and functioning of legal systems. While most LLB courses focus on particular areas of law, covering the main doctrinal rules and principles which govern them, this course is distinctive in equipping students with three further important tools for a rounded understanding of law, its practical operation, and its impact in society.  These are, first a detailed study of the rules, protocols and conventions which govern the judicial interpretation and development of law in the English legal system; second a comparative and historical analysis of the very different way in which those rules and protocols have developed in both the civilian systems of the continent of Europe, and the common law system of the United States, implying key difference in the constitutions of these legal systems; third, an examination of the distinctive ways in which legal rules and processes are embedded in particular institutional structures and traditions, and of the ways in which these institutions have been changing over the last 30 years, with implications for the social impact of law and for the relationship between law and other social rules, conventions and regulatory systems.

The course will include the following topics (though the order of sessions 5-11 may change):

  1. What is law? (NL)
  2. Reading Law: Statutory interpretation (ND)
  3. Reading Law: Common law and judicial precedent (ND)
  4. The Civilian Tradition (ND)
  5. Adjudication and Due Process: the role of the trial (NL)
  6. Reading Week 
  7. The Judiciary: Does it matter who the judges are?  (NL)
  8. Developments in Criminal Justice; Law and Legitimacy (NL)
  9. Developments in Civil Justice; Alternative forms of Dispute Resolution (NL)
  10. Social Ordering beyond Formal Law: Legal Pluralism (NL)
  11. Legal Decision-making beyond Lawyers: Lay Participation  (NL)


20 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

This is a Moodle course, with the course materials, lecture outlines, class reading and suggestions for further reading set out through links to relevant sites. Students who would like to do some introductory reading are encouraged to read Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law (2010: Penguin 2011)  The Secret Barrister (Macmillan 2018: Pan Macmillan Paperback 2019)


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2018/19: 198

Average class size 2018/19: 11

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills