Civil Liberties and Human Rights

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Kai Moller and Professor Conor Gearty


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. This is followed by a couple of weeks on theories of rights and judicial review, focusing on Robert Alexy’s theory of rights as principles, and the culture of justification. In Winter Term, the focus shifts to civil liberties in the UK and to the UK Human Rights Act, 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 emphasis will be on the way in which civil liberties are protected in UK law, with the law on police powers, on public order and on terrorism being the subject of particular interest. Inevitably in the current political climate, the future of the Human Rights Act is also considered. The goal of the course is to enable students to critically assess the European Court of Human Rights’ and the UK 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 UK legal system, including the extent to which it can be said to promote and protect civil liberties. 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,  and the extent to which – if at all – civil liberties protection has been improved.

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.


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. Theories of proportionality-based rights adjudication: Robert Alexy’s theory of rights as principles; the culture of justification and the right to justification. The Human Rights Act 1998; the relationship between the Act and the protection of civil liberties; the law on police powers; the law on freedom of assembly and public order; UK anti-terrorism law. The debate about a new bill of rights for Britain.


This course is delivered through seminars totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Autumn Term and Winter Term. This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Autumn Term and Winter Term. There will be a revision class in Spring Term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce one formative essay in each of the two teaching terms.

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).

For the civil liberties side of the course see

  • Bradley, Ewing and Knight, Constitutional and Administrative Law (18th edn, paperback 2022).


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours and 30 minutes) in the spring exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law School

Total students 2022/23: 7

Average class size 2022/23: 8

Capped 2022/23: Yes (30)

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills