Public International Law

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Stephen Humphreys

Additional Teachers: Professor Gerry Simpson, Dr Devika Hovell, Dr Margot Salomon, Dr Chaloka Beyani


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BSc in Environmental Policy with Economics, BSc in International Relations 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 the sources of international law, the scope of responsibility for its breach, and its role in the creation and empowerment of states. In this connection we examine the work of the International Court of Justice, the WTO Appellate Body, various human rights courts and committees, the International Criminal Court, and the ad hoc international criminal tribunals, along with judgments of national courts invoking international law. We will take up a range of topical issues of global concern, studying their international legal dimensions. The issues to be discussed are likely to include war, trade and investment, human rights, climate change, and international crime. We also investigate aspects of the history of international law, its 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 are expected to produce one formative essay per term

Indicative reading

Reading lists will be provided for each topic on Moodle. You are asked to buy M. Evans (ed.), International Law (Oxford: OUP, 5th ed, 2018) and Blackstone’s International Law Documents.

Some other works to which you may wish to refer include the most recent editions of: 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 summer exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2018/19: 83

Average class size 2018/19: 11

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

Teachers' comment

The LL278 teaching team is delighted that 80% 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.