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Unit information: International Criminal Law in 2016/17

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Unit name International Criminal Law
Unit code LAWDM0129
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Mrs. Rooney
Open unit status Not open




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


This unit provides an examination of institutional and substantive aspects of the international criminal justice system. The unit offers an analysis of the history, key features and effectiveness of international institutions created to investigate and prosecute international crimes, including ad hoc international criminal tribunals and the permanent International Criminal Court. It explores the jurisdiction and cooperation of national courts for the national prosecution of international crimes. In relation to substantive aspects, the course focuses on core crimes falling under the jurisdiction of international courts and tribunals, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The various ways in which actors can participate in international crimes and grounds for excluding criminal responsibility will also be addressed.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of the course a successful student should be able to:

  • Discuss the history, key features and effectiveness of various international criminal law institutions.
  • Evaluate established international and domestic concepts of criminal law in the light of the different approaches to, and theories of, criminal justice systems.
  • Evaluate issues of complementarity, cooperation and compliance.
  • Define and discuss key elements of core crimes of international criminal law, liability and defences.
  • Evaluate the political and social context of the international criminal justice system, as well as its relationship with other international law.
  • Construct legal arguments for addressing selected substantive and procedural legal questions, and apply arguments to selected legal examples and contemporary problems.
  • Develop personal and justifiable opinions on the effectiveness of specific laws, the desirability of reform, and recognise the competing arguments for reform.

Students will be expected to actively participate in ten two-hour seminars, to discuss assigned readings, to answer questions relating to the assigned readings and to carry out further research to support their evaluation of the materials. Seminars will include legal problem questions, based upon practical and current legal issues. The summative assessments will test the student’s ability to evaluate and carry out further research in important issues relating to both institutional and substantive aspects of international criminal law.

Teaching details

The contact hours for this unit will be 30 hours. This will usually take the format of: 8 lectures, 10 two-hour seminars and 2 assessment preparation and feedback sessions.

Assessment Details

The methods for summative assessment will be 2 x 3000 word summative assessments (50%, 50%) for submission in the Spring and Summer terms.

The assessments will assess all the Intended Learning Outcomes for this unit in the context of topics selected by the examiners.

Formative - students should do one formative assessment and will receive feedback on the first summative essay

Reading and References

The recommended textbook for this course is:

  • Robert Cryer et al, An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure, 3rd Edn (CUP, 2014).

Recommended reading:

  • Antonio Cassese and Paola Gaeta (eds) Cassese's International Criminal Law 3rd Edn (OUP, USA 2013).
  • Douglas Guilfoyle, International Criminal Law (OUP 2016)

Useful Texts:

Steven Ratner et al, Accountability for Human Rights Atrocities in International Law: Beyond the Nuremberg Legacy (3rd edn OUP, Oxford 2009).