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Unit information: International Investment Law in 2021/22

Unit name International Investment Law
Unit code LAWDM0152
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Paine
Open unit status Not open




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


In the last two decades, international investment law has risen from obscurity to become one of the most dynamic and controversial fields of international law. International investment law primarily regulates the relationship between foreign investors (and their investments) and States receiving foreign investment. As well as giving rise to complex (and often novel) legal issues, international investment law raises policy issues concerning globalisation, the protection of private property, the appropriate role of the State, and the interests of local communities affected by foreign investment activities. The area is, in many ways, a unique hybrid, drawing on elements of international law, commercial law and public law.

This unit will offer a comprehensive and critical introduction to international investment law. The focus will be on investment treaties, which are the most common jurisdictional basis for investor-State arbitration, although some consideration will be given to investor-State contracts or foreign investment laws at the national level. The unit will consider the nature of investment protection regime by examining its history, and the purported economic and political rationales informing the regime’s creation and development. Substantive standards of investment protection, such as fair and equitable treatment, non-discrimination and rules regarding expropriation, will be subject to detailed scrutiny. Considerable attention will be devoted to the process of investor-State dispute settlement, enabling students to form their own views on the validity of the popular critique of ‘secret courts’. This part of the course will focus on the framework of international arbitration, and will examine questions of jurisdiction and admissibility, arbitral procedure, and challenges to and enforcement of arbitral awards. Throughout the course, attention will be paid to the tensions between investment protection and a State’s sovereign right to regulate in the public interest. This theme emerges most prominently in the apparent conflicts between investment law and human rights or environmental law. Students will be expected to engage with challenges to the legitimacy of the international investment regime and ongoing attempts to reform it. The course will involve sustained study of arbitral decisions, and students will also be exposed to the wide variety of normative perspectives advanced by commentators in this field.

The list of examinable topics will typically include: history and political economy of investment law, sources of investment law, definition of investors and investments, key substantive standards (including fair and equitable treatment, expropriation, and national treatment), defences and exceptions, dispute settlement institutions and process, jurisdiction and admissibility, challenges to and enforcement of awards, and backlash and legitimacy challenges.

Intended learning outcomes

The main learning outcome of this unit is to equip students with a clear understanding of the international legal regime governing the protection and regulation of foreign investment. Students will also learn about the ongoing attempts to reform the international investment regime. Students will be able to form and justify their own views on key controversies that have arisen in relation to this area of law, including its policy implications. By the end of the unit, students should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the substantive protections available to foreign investors under international law, and the procedural principles underpinning investor-State dispute settlement.
  2. Appreciate the similarities and differences between different types of arbitration (such as ICSID and UNCITRAL).
  3. Engage critically with the normative foundations of international investment law.
  4. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the current debates that are leading to a reshaping of international investment law.
  5. Critically appraise the law on investment protection from the perspective of different groups of States, and other stakeholders.

Teaching details

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

Assessment Details

Summative: 1 x coursework assignment to a specified word count (50%). 1 x Timed Open Book Assessment to a specified word count (50%).

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

Reading and References

  • Campbell McLachlan, Laurence Shore, and Matthew Weiniger, International Investment Arbitration: Substantive Principles (2nd edn, OUP 2017)
  • Jonathan Bonnitcha, Lauge Poulsen and Michael Waibel, The Politcal Economy of the Investment Treaty Regime (OUP 2017)
  • Yannick Radi, Rules and Practices of International Investment Law and Arbitration (CUP 2020)

A casebook (from which readings will frequently be assigned) is:

  • CL Lim, J Ho, and M Paparinskis, International Investment Law and Arbitration: Commentary, Awards and other Materials (CUP 2018)