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Unit information: Public Law in 2016/17

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Unit name Public Law
Unit code LAWDM0059
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. John Coggon
Open unit status Not open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit examines the rules, principles and practices which regulate the powers, functions and composition of the key institutions of government in the UK. It explores the theoretical concepts underpinning the UK's constitutional arrangements and analyses the mechanisms through which legislative, executive and judicial authority is exercised. It further addresses the legal principles governing the relationship between the individual and the state. Consideration is given to principles of judicial review, the development of non-judicial processes and the role of human rights law as means by which redress may be obtained and government rendered accountable.

This unit aims to give students a good general grounding in British Public Law, that is, in the main principles of constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law. It will cover the structure of the United Kingdom’s constitution and legal systems, the major institutions of government, their role and functions, as well as the relationship between the individual and the state. It starts by considering the nature of constitutions and the principles of political morality which underpin them. These are discussed in relation to the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty. The nature and role of Parliament is then covered, focusing in particular on the legislative process, the House of Commons, and the relationship between the judiciary and Parliament. Administrative law is represented by a detailed study of the principles of judicial review set in the context of administrative justice more broadly. Human rights and civil liberties start with a discussion of the Human Rights Act 1998, followed by a series of ‘case studies’ of pressing issues in human rights and good governance: freedom of expression, particularly in the context of political debate; the control of information, both by Government and private individuals; and the legal response to the threat of terrorism.

Intended learning outcomes

In addition to teaching the substantive content of Public Law, this unit has also been designed to foster the development of certain key skills which should be transferable to other units. These relate both to the handling of legal materials and to matters of a more general intellectual nature. In terms of legal materials, students should be able to:

  • consider and resolve concrete legal problems
  • discuss legal issues in an informed way in the light of relevant political context and constitutional principle.

The unit also places emphasis upon oral communication and argument. This skill will be fostered in part by class discussion, but more specifically through oral presentations.

Teaching details

This unit is taught by way of 20 lectures, 10 two-hour seminars and 2 assessment preparation and feedback sessions.

Assessment Details

Summative: 2 x 3000 word essays (50% each) will assess the candidate's ability to research a topic within the scope of this unit. Both assessments will assess all of the Intended Learning Outcomes for this unit in the context of topics selected by the examiners.

Formative: students should do one formative assessment (this will usually be 1 x 1500 word essay).

Reading and References

  • Tony Wright, British Politics, A Very Short Introduction, 2nd edn., OUP, 2013.
  • Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law, Penguin, 2010.
  • K. Syrett, Foundations of Public Law: Principles and Problems of Power in the British Constitution, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011
  • Ian Loveland, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Human Rights: a critical introduction, 6th edn., Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • J. Jowell & D. Oliver (eds.), The Changing Constitution, OUP, 8th edn., 2015.