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Unit information: General Principles of International Law in 2018/19

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Unit name General Principles of International Law
Unit code LAWD20041
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Bjorge
Open unit status Not open




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


This is an introductory unit in public international law which provides some of the basic skills and knowledge required to study more specialist aspects of international law. The unit also stands alone as an overview of some foundational issues in international law. It considers a number of key inter-related questions: in particular, what is international law and why does it matter? To whom does it apply? Where are the rules of this legal order to be found, and how are they enforced? The unit is designed to make students think critically about the structure, sources, and function of international law and the relevance of these issues to contemporary international problems. We will try to answer these questions by going through the following examinable topics: the sources of international law, including especially the law of treaties; the question of who are the actors on the international plane?; the relationship between international law and domestic law; the question of jurisdiction, that is, the limits on a State’s power to regulate matters within and without its borders; immunities, that is, for example, the immunity of foreign states from suit in the municipal courts of third states; state responsibility, which covers the principles governing the conditions under which a state is held responsible for internationally wrongful acts; and the rules of international law governing the use of force. The methodology applied in the course is that of black letter international law; the focus is on learning to work with the sources of law and the method of international lawyers.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit a successful student will be able to:

  • Explain the principles of international law
  • Explain the institutional structure of international law, the law-making and decision-making processes; and, in particular, the United Nations
  • Explain international law and how it relates to national law
  • State the law accurately
  • Apply legal principles to problem case scenarios
  • Think critically about ways in which the law could be reformed

Teaching details

23 lectures and 7 tutorials.

Assessment Details

2 formative assessments: 1 x 1,000 word coursework. Formative assessments do not count towards final mark and can be optional.

1 summative assessment: 1 x 3 hour exam in the Summer Exam Period. Summative assessments do count towards final mark.

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

Reading and References

There are several for you to choose from, including:

– Evans, International Law (4th edn, OUP 2014)

– Dixon, McCorquodale and Williams, Cases and materials on International Law (5th edn, OUP 2011)

– Dixon, Textbook on International Law (7th edn, OUP 2013)

– Shaw, International Law (7th edn, CUP 2014)

– Harris, Cases and Materials on International Law, (8th edn, Sweet & Maxwell 2015)

– Crawford, Brownlie’s Principles of Public International Law (8th edn, OUP 2012)