LL475      Half Unit
Terrorism and the Rule of Law

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Conor Gearty


This course is available on the LLM (extended part-time), LLM (full-time), MSc in Human Rights and University of Pennsylvania Law School LLM Visiting Students. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


This course has a limited number of places and demand is typically high. This may mean that you’re not able to get a place on this course.

Course content

This course will provide a theoretical and historical introduction to the concept of terrorism. It will critically consider definitions of terrorism, and analyse the relationship between terrorism and the right to rebel, and the right to engage in civil disobedience. The historical development of the idea of 'terrorism' from the late eighteenth century through to the present will then be traced, with the emphasis on locating the practice of political terror in its political and military/quasi-military context. The role of international law generally and international human rights law in particular in the context of terrorism and anti-terrorism action will be considered in detail. The course will teach the material in context, so the subject will be analysed by reference to particular situations where necessary, e.g. Northern Ireland, the Palestine/Israel conflict and the post 11 September 'war on terror'. The recent extension of state controls from terrorism to ‘extremism’ will be analysed. The aim of the course is to give the student a good critical understanding of this most controversial of subjects, and also to impart an understanding of the role of law in shaping the fields of terrorism and of counter-terrorism.


This course will have two hours of teaching content each week in Autumn Term. There will be a Reading Week in Week 6. 

Formative coursework

One 2,000 word essay.

Indicative reading

There is no set text though reliance is made on the work of authors such as Richard English, Adrian Guelke, Lawrence Freedman, Igor Primoratz, Paul Wilkinson and the course teacher Conor Gearty. Students will receive a detailed Reading list for each topic, which will include legal cases from time to time, particularly in the second half of the course. Two recommended texts are Gearty, Liberty and Security (Polity Press, February 2013) and English, Terrorism How to respond (Oxford 2009). Use will also be made of extracts from Gearty, Homeland Insecurity. The Rise and Rise of Global Anti-terrorism Law (Polity, 2024: forthcoming).


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the spring exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law School

Total students 2022/23: 45

Average class size 2022/23: 13

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT)

Value: Half 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