Public International Law

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Stephen Humphreys

Additional Teachers: Professor Gerry Simpson, 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 and its relation to the establishment and retreat of European empires, as well as approaches to international law that focus on gender, and the problem of fragmentation. 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 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

One formative (unassessed) 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.

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: 62

Average class size 2020/21: 13

Capped 2020/21: Yes (75)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills