Skip to main content

Unit information: Comparative Public Law in 2018/19

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Comparative Public Law
Unit code LAWD30067
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Psygkas
Open unit status Not open




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


This unit examines central issues in comparative public law across a range of jurisdictions. The focus is on the United States, the United Kingdom, and one continental European system (Germany or France). Based on staff and student interests, other jurisdictions, for example South Africa or the Commonwealth Caribbean, can be discussed. The unit has a tripartite structure: it opens with an introduction on the purpose and methods of comparative public law. It then sets the scene for the discussion of specific cases by presenting the institutional backdrop from a comparative perspective. Subsequently, we discuss current controversies around some of the most difficult questions of our time. Areas covered may include: freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, affirmative action, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, dignity, privacy, the economic constitution, campaign finance regulation and socio-economic rights. This cycle concludes with a discussion of judicial reasoning and tools of constitutional interpretation. We then move on to a discussion of topical questions in administrative law, which may include, for example, cost-benefit analysis and behavioural approaches to policy. The unit concludes with reflections on what the comparative perspective may tell us about the development of global public law.

The unit introduces students to the jurisprudence of influential foreign courts, and invites critical reflection on comparative approaches to common, and challenging, public law issues. We will also situate this jurisprudence in context by analysing the role of other constitutional actors, such as the executive, the legislature and social movements. By examining the ways in which different constitutional systems seek to realise the ideals of democracy and constitutionalism, students will be able to gain a better understanding of the distinctiveness of their own system and the potential for the emergence of a global public law system.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of the unit students will be able to:

- identify key debates in comparative constitutionalism;
- locate and analyse primary legal materials from foreign jurisdictions;
- interpret and evaluate critically relevant public law provisions, legal concepts, general principles and theoretical approaches;
- discuss and apply key reasoning tools employed by constitutional courts in resolving public law disputes;
- appraise the role of constitutional actors outside the courts;
- analyse the relationship between constitutionalism and democracy, and think critically about different attempts to reconcile these two ideals;
- recognize the context in which public law operates and assess how political, cultural, social and historical factors may affect legal approaches to key public law problems;
- demonstrate independent research skills and present cogent and comprehensible comparative law arguments.

Teaching details

10 two-hour seminars and 10 one-hour lectures.

Assessment Details

1 formative assessments: 1 x 1,500 word coursework. Formative assessments do not count towards final mark and can be optional.

2 x summative assessments: 2 x 2,000 word essays. Summative assessments do count towards final mark.

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

Reading and References

Key texts:

  • M. Rosenfeld and A. Sajó (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law (Oxford University Press, 2012) [also available from the library as an electronic resource]
  • V. Jackson and M. Tushnet, Comparative Constitutional Law, 3rd ed (Foundation Press, 2014)
  • T. Ginsburg and R. Dixon (eds), Comparative Constitutional Law (Edward Elgar, 2011) [also available from the library as an electronic resource]
  • M. Tushnet, Introduction to Comparative Constitutional Law (Edward Elgar, 2014)
  • M. Tushnet, T. Fleiner and C. Saunders (eds), Routledge Handbook of Constitutional Law (Routledge, 2013)
  • S. Rose-Ackerman and P. Lindseth (eds), Comparative Administrative Law (Edward Elgar, 2010) [also available from the library as an electronic resource]