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Unit information: International Dispute Settlement in 2021/22

Unit name International Dispute Settlement
Unit code LAWD30117
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Paine
Open unit status Not open

LAWD20041 General Principles of International Law



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

Description including Unit Aims

The unit explores critically the field of international dispute settlement, as the field has developed since the 1920s. The focus is on international dispute settlement through adjudication before international courts and tribunals. The unit covers the settlement of disputes of an international nature; this includes inter-State disputes and disputes between individuals or a corporation on the one hand and a State on the other. It also engages the criticisms and backlash to which this growing field of law has given rise.

The course covers questions relating to a wide range of institutions. The main institutions considered include the International Court of Justice; inter-State arbitration (often occurring under Part XV of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)); investor–State arbitration (e.g. administered by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)); and dispute settlement in the World Trade Organization. Other categories of international courts and tribunals are addressed more briefly to illustrate certain themes in the unit, e.g. regional human rights courts and dispute settlement under regional trade agreements.

The institutional part of the course will deal with the legal characteristics of the workings of the institutions at issue and how they interrelate with other institutions. The part of the course dealing with procedural law will provide an introduction to the principles of international procedural law on which international courts and tribunals rely; this involves the study of questions such as e.g. jurisdiction and admissibility, remedies, and parallel proceedings.

The unit gives close attention to the significant criticisms that have been levelled against the system of international dispute settlement in the last 10-15 years, especially in the field of investment protection. Questions considered in this part of the unit will typically include the following: Are the outcomes overly investor friendly? Is the State accorded sufficient regulatory space? Is the role of counsel and judges or arbitrators satisfactorily regulated? What are the implications of the lack of diversity on the bench of many international courts and tribunals and how might this be remedied? Who benefits and who loses from the existing system of international dispute settlement? Students will be expected to be able to examine these questions critically and to form their own judgements as to the legitimacy and attractiveness or otherwise of the burgeoning field of law studied.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students who have successfully passed this unit will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a sound knowledge of the institutions and the methods concerned with international dispute settlement, as well as the procedure governing and certain substantive principles bearing on the settlement of international disputes;
  • Assess critically the rules and principles which govern the law of international dispute settlement;
  • See the crossovers but also differences between the law regulating the procedural (and certain substantive) aspects of sub-systems of international law;
  • Engage in reasoned debates—written as well as oral—on questions relating to the law of international dispute settlement, and be able to defend their position when challenged with alternative or opposing arguments;
  • Engage critically with the justification for and effects of the growing system of international dispute settlement, in light e.g. of considerations such as judicial power and democracy.

Teaching Information

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

Assessment Information

1 x summative assessment: Timed Open Book Assessment 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.

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How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.