Public International Law

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Gerry Simpson

Additional Teachers: Dr Margot Salomon, Dr Mona Pinchis-Paulson, Professor Susan Marks


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, 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 Autumn Term and Winter Term, in the form of a two hour seminar. This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Autumn Term and Winter 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 and 30 minutes) in the spring exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law School

Total students 2022/23: 69

Average class size 2022/23: 11

Capped 2022/23: Yes (90)

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT)

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