Public International Law

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Stephen Humphreys and Prof Gerry Simpson

Conveners: Dr Stephen Humphreys (Lent Term), Professor Gerry Simpson (Michaelmas Term)

Additional Teachers: Dr Devika Hovell, Dr Margot Salomon, Dr Chaloka Beyani, Dr Mona Pinchis-Paulson


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.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent 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 Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

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.

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: 77

Average class size 2019/20: 11

Capped 2019/20: Yes (103)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills