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Unit information: Public 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 Public Law
Unit code LAWDM0059
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Phillipson
Open unit status Not open




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


This unit examines the rules, principles and practices which regulate the powers, functions and composition of the key institutions of government in the UK. It explores the theoretical concepts underpinning the UK's constitutional arrangements and analyses the mechanisms through which legislative, executive and judicial authority is exercised. It further addresses the legal principles governing the relationship between the individual and the state. Consideration is given to principles of judicial review, the development of non-judicial processes and the role of human rights law as means by which redress may be obtained and government rendered accountable.

This unit aims to give students a good general grounding in British Public Law, that is, in the main principles of constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law. It will cover the structure of the United Kingdom’s constitution and legal systems, the major institutions of government, their role and functions, as well as the relationship between the individual and the state. It starts by considering the nature of constitutions and the principles of political morality which underpin them. These are discussed in relation to the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty. The nature and role of Parliament is then covered, focusing in particular on the legislative process, the House of Commons, and the relationship between the judiciary and Parliament. Administrative law is represented by a detailed study of the principles of judicial review set in the context of administrative justice more broadly. Human rights and civil liberties start with a discussion of the Human Rights Act 1998, followed by a series of ‘case studies’ of pressing issues in human rights and good governance.

Intended learning outcomes

In addition to teaching the substantive content of Public Law, this unit has also been designed to foster the development of certain key skills which should be transferable to other units. These relate both to the handling of legal materials and to matters of a more general intellectual nature. In terms of legal materials, students should be able to:

  • discuss legal issues in an informed way in the light of relevant political context and constitutional principle
  • summarise key legal concepts such as the rule of law; parliamentary sovereignty
  • analyse and resolve concrete public law problems
  • understand and appropriately apply public law principles in judicial review cases

Teaching details

This unit is taught by way of 20 lectures, 10 two-hour seminars and 2 assessment preparation and feedback sessions.

Assessment Details

Summative: 2 x 3000 word answers (essay or problem question) (50% each). Both assessments will assess all of the Intended Learning Outcomes for this unit in the context of topics selected by the examiners.

Formative: students are encouraged to do the formative assessments in each term.

Reading and References

The core texts for this unit are:

  • M. Elliot and R. Thomas, Public Law, 3rd edn., OUP, 2017.
  • J. Jowell, D. Oliver, and C. O’Cinneide, The Changing Constitution, 8th edn., OUP, 2015

Beyond the core texts:

If you would like a brief introduction to the political issues underpinning the subject, you may find the following useful:

  • Tony Wright, British Politics, A Very Short Introduction, 2nd edn., OUP, 2013.
  • Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law, Penguin, 2010.

Two other good, short introductory textbooks are:

  • K. Syrett, Foundations of Public Law: Principles and Problems of Power in the British Constitution, 2nd edn., Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  • A. Tomkins, Public Law, OUP, 2003. This book stresses the political dimensions of the subject and is written in a critical, accessible style; though it is becoming rather dated.

If, alternatively, you are looking for a rather fuller treatment, two good major texts are:

  • A. Bradley, K. Ewing, and C. Knight, Constitutional and Administrative Law, 17th edn., Pearson Education, Longman, 2018. This book is very strong on detail.
  • C. Turpin and A. Tomkins, British Government and the Constitution, 7th edn., CUP, 2011. This textbook usefully contains a large number of extracts from other writers.