Skip to main content

Unit information: Public Law in 2015/16

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. Julian Rivers
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.

Intended learning outcomes

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: freedom of expression, particularly in the context of political debate; the control of information, both by Government and private individuals; and the legal response to the threat of terrorism.

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 both to consider and resolve concrete legal problems and to discuss legal issues in an informed way in the light of relevant political context and constitutional principle. The unit also places emphasis upon oral communication and argument. This skill will be fostered in part by class discussion, but more specifically through oral presentations.

Teaching details

The unit is taught in fortnightly seminars which include student presentations, collective discussion and problem-solving. Students are encouraged to attend relevant parallel undergraduate lectures. Presentations are submitted and assessed formatively, in addition to formative assessments preceding each of the two summative coursework assignments.

Assessment Details

Summative - 2 x 3000 word essays (weighting 50/50%)

The assessments will assess all the Intended Learning Outcomes for this unit (apart from oral communication and argument) in the context of topics selected by the examiners.

Formative - students should do two formative essays (one of each format, a discursive essay and Problem Question) to prepare for each summative piece of coursework. They will get feedback on the first formative essay.

Reading and References

Tony Wright, British Politics, A Very Short Introduction, 2nd edn., OUP, 2013. Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law, Penguin, 2010. K. Syrett, Foundations of Public Law: Principles and Problems of Power in the British Constitution, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011 Ian Loveland, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Human Rights: a critical introduction, 6th edn., Oxford University Press, 2012. J. Jowell & D. Oliver (eds.), The Changing Constitution, OUP, 7th edn., 2011.