Civil Liberties and Human Rights

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Kai Moller

Additional Teachers: Professor Thomas Poole.


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law and LLB in Laws. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The course provides a challenging introduction to human rights law and builds on the knowledge that students have acquired in Public Law in year one. The first term starts by focusing on the European Convention on Human Rights with an in‐depth analysis of the case law on several important rights, including but not limited to freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of religion, the right to respect for private life, and freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In the second term, the focus shifts to the UK Human Rights Act, setting out a theoretical perspective on civil liberties before considering the common law approach to liberty and then analysing in depth how the Human Rights Act impacts on the protection of civil liberties and human rights in this area. The term ends with a review of the interrelationship between the Human Rights Act and the Strasbourg system, and also deals with the extra-territorial reach of the Act and its impact on UK national security/anti-terrorism law.

The goal of the course is to enable students to critically assess the European Court of Human Rights’ and the U.K. Supreme Court’s arguments about the compatibility of a policy or administrative decision with human rights and the particularities of human rights adjudication within the U.K. legal system. To this end, the course will focus on the necessary doctrinal and conceptual frameworks, theoretical aspects of human rights law, and in‐depth analysis of selected problems in human rights law.

This course does not touch upon strategic or policy issues (such as the most effective ways to promote human rights, NGO practices, etc.); rather it focuses on the controversial and often difficult moral and political issues that arise in human rights adjudication and on unravelling the implications of the particular way in which U.K. law has incorporated the ECHR. Regard will however be had to the current argument over whether or not the Human Rights Act should be repealed.

The teaching of this course is mainly case‐based. To complete it successfully, students must prepare for each class by reading and thinking through the relevant cases; the classes will be conducted on the basis of the expectation that the students are familiar with the materials. There is no comprehensive textbook available for this course.


Theoretical aspects of human rights and their judicial enforcement; the Human Rights Act 1998; human rights and parliamentary sovereignty; human rights and standards of review; human rights and the common law; precedent and human rights law. The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights; proportionality, the margin of appreciation, the living instrument doctrine, emerging consensus, negative and positive obligations. Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment; freedom of expression; freedom of association and ‘militant democracy’; freedom of religion; the right to respect for private and family life.


This course will have a minimum of two hours of teaching content each week in Michaelmas Term and Lent Term, either in the form of a two hour seminar or an online lecture and one hour class. This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

For the European Convention on Human Rights, interested students may want to take a look at Harris, O’Boyle and Warbrick, Law of the European Convention on Human Rights 4th edn (OUP, 2018). For the more theoretical aspects of the course, see Kai Möller’s The Global Model of Constitutional Rights (OUP, 2015). For the UK side, representative works include Conor Gearty, Civil Liberties (OUP, 2007) and (more recently) On Fantasy Island. Britain, Strasbourg and Human Rights (OUP, 2016), Tom Hickman, Public Law after the Human Rights Act (Hart, 2010), Aileen Kavanagh, Constitutional Review under the UK Human Rights Act (CUP, 2009).


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

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills