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Unit information: Rich Law, Poor Law in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

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 Rich Law, Poor Law
Unit code LAWD30017
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Bales
Open unit status Not open



LAWD30120 Trusts.

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


Rich Law, Poor Law is a unit that was borne out of both anger and concern – anger at the way the poor are treated compared to the rich; and concern that the law facilitates wealth and punishes the poor. In short, the rule of law that everybody is treated equally is something that does not bear any sort of close examination. Court and Tribunal fees in themselves exclude many, particularly as they are now so dear. You will likely appreciate that these sentiments have become part of a clarion call post-crash, but academics and others have pointed to these effects ever since the Greeks. It is not the purpose of this unit to gain a full, in-depth appreciation of all the nuances of “Rich Law, Poor Law” – that would be many lifetimes’ achievement. Rather, its purpose is to seek explanations of law and policy problematics as best we can, taking account of the way each has developed over time and demonstrate the consistently differentiated experiences of law. Key to the structure of this unit is that seminars are paired together around central themes. There are five such themes: commercial and social security; social justice; criminal justice; fraud and justice; and property justice. The purpose of the pairing is to “match” an aspect of “rich law” with an aspect of “poor law”. There are key questions to consider as a result of these pairings. How are the rules different? How can difference (if it exists) be explained? Are the pairings appropriate? Is it just a case of the law discriminating between the deserving and undeserving? Is it possible to change “the system” so that equality (if that is desirable) becomes possible? And, finally, to what extent does the binary rich/poor work?

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students will have acquired the following:
1. How the rules underpinning the different subject pairings are different.
2. How, if at all, such differences (if they exist) can be explained, including the extent to which the law discriminates between the deserving and undeserving.
3. An understanding of the ways in which fraud is considered and prosecuted across taxation and social security, as well as the different images and discourses of taxation and social security fraud
4. The different issues underpinning taxation and social security prosecutions, including but not limited to prosecutions.
5. The ability to articulate the possibilities of equality in and through law.

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through 10 one-hour lectures and 10 two-hour seminars.

Assessment Details

1 x formative assessment (submitted for marking), plus additional informal formative feedback opportunities as indicated by the unit coordinator.

Formative assessments do not count towards final mark and can be optional.

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

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

Reading and References

  • Dee Cook, Rich Law, Poor Law, Milton Keynes: Open UP, 1989
  • Peter Golding and Sue Middleton, Images of Welfare, Oxford: Blackwell, 1982
  • Neville Harris, Law in a Complex State, Oxford: Hart, 2013
  • Ann Mumford, Tax Policy, Women and the Law: UK and Comparative Perspectives, Cambridge: CUP, 2010
  • Andrew Sanders and Richard Young, Criminal Justice, Oxford: OUP, 2010