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Unit information: International Dispute Settlement in 2020/21

Unit name International Dispute Settlement
Unit code LAWD30117
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Paine
Open unit status Not open

LAWD20041 General Principles of International Law



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


The unit explores critically the field of international dispute settlement, as the field has developed since the 1920s. It covers the settlement of disputes of an international nature; this includes inter-State disputes and disputes between individuals or corporation on the one hand and States on the other. It also engages the criticisms and backlash to which this growing field of law has given rise.

The course covers questions relating to a wide range of institutions: the prime institutions concerned with the settlement of international disputes, such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), and the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) (and potentially also the Appellate Body of the WTO); procedural law; and certain questions of substantive principles (but not ones that would overlap with LAWD0041 General Principles of International Law).The institutional part of the course will deal with e.g. the legal characteristics of the workings of the institutions at issue, their working methods, and how they interrelate with other institutions. It is intended to try to draw on the work and expertise of colleagues in the field of dispute settlement within the WTO. The part of the course dealing with procedural law will provide an outline of the principles of international procedural law on which international courts and tribunals rely; this involves the study of questions such as e.g. jurisdiction and admissibility, remedies, and the conduct of the arbitral process. The part on substantive principles covers especially aspects of the protection of foreign investment, such as e.g. the fair and equitable treatment standard, expropriation, full protection and security, and aspects of the relationship between contract and treaty in the field of investment protection.

The unit will also go into the criticism that has, over the last decade, been levelled at the regime of international dispute settlement—especially within the field of investment protection (e.g. are the outcomes overly investor friendly? Is the State accorded sufficient regulatory space? Is the growing case law on international dispute settlement no more than a ‘wilderness of single instances’? Is the role of counsel and judges or arbitrators satisfactorily regulated?). Students will be expected to be able to examine these questions critically and to form their own judgements as to the legitimacy and attractiveness or otherwise of the burgeoning field of law studied.

Intended learning outcomes

Students who have successfully passed this unit will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a sound knowledge of the institutions and the methods concerned with international dispute settlement, as well as the procedure governing and certain substantive principles bearing on the settlement of international disputes;
  • Assess critically the rules and principles which govern the law of international dispute settlement;
  • See the crossovers but also differences between the law regulating the procedural (and certain substantive) aspects of sub-systems of international law;
  • Engage in reasoned debates—written as well as oral—on questions relating to the law of international dispute settlement, and be able to defend their position when challenged with alternative or opposing arguments;
  • Engage critically with the justification for and effects of the growing system of international dispute settlement, in light e.g. of considerations such as judicial power and democracy.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a variety of asynchronous and synchronous activities

Assessment Details

1 x summative assessment: Timed Open Book Assessment with a specified word count (100%)

The assessment will assess all of the intended learning outcomes for this unit.

Reading and References

  • J Merrils, International Dispute Settlement (CUP 2017);
  • H Thirlway, The International Court of Justice (OUP 2016);
  • C Schreuer, The ICSID Convention: A Commentary (2nd edn, CUP 2009);
  • C McLachlan and others, Substantive Principles of Investment Protection (2nd edn, OUP 2017);
  • C Brown, A Common Law of International Adjudication (OUP 2007).