LL109      Half Unit
Introduction to the Legal System

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Nicola Lacey, Prof Neil Duxbury and Dr Jacobus Bomhoff


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 (JD)
  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)


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Michaelmas Term. This year some or all of this teaching will be delivered through recorded online lectures and a mix of both in-person and online classes to accommodate students who are unable to physically be on campus. This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Michaelmas Term.

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.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2019/20: 182

Average class size 2019/20: 10

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills