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Unit information: Rich Law, Poor Law in 2021/22

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 Professor. Cowan
Open unit status Not open




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 be able to demonstrate the following:

  1. Define the rules underpinning the different subject pairings and describe their differences (if they exist at all).
  2. Identify the extent to which the law discriminates between the deserving and undeserving and link this back to some of the theoretical literature studied in order to explain and critique why this might be the case.
  3. Analyse and articulate the possibilities of equality in and through law.
  4. Illustrate the ability to work through social theoretical perspectives in the context of the specific pairings through discussion in seminars and written coursework.
  5. Employ legal principles alongside a variety of secondary materials in order to compare the law’s treatment of rich and poor and assess whether the existing outcomes in terms of the distribution of capital were intended as part of a broader political plan.

Teaching details

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

Assessment Details

1 x summative assessment: coursework with a specified word count (100%)

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


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. LAWD30017).