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Unit information: Public Law in 2020/21

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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

Description including Unit Aims

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, and the role of human rights law as means by which redress may be obtained and government rendered accountable. The impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on all the above issues is a key concern.

This unit aims to give students a good general grounding in UK 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 principles of constitutionalism and then goes on to consider the nature of the UK’s uncodified constitution and its disparate sources, in particular prerogative powers and recent controversial attempts to render them more limited and accountable. The latter issue is discussed as an aspect of the rule of law; the unit considers the other two key principles of the constitution: parliamentary sovereignty and the separation of powers. The impact of Brexit and the key legislation catering for it is considered in relation to all these topics and also to the devolved structure of the UK. Administrative law is represented by a detailed study of the principles of judicial review set in the context of administrative justice more broadly. Methods of protecting human rights and civil liberties in the UK focus on a detailed discussion of the Human Rights Act 1998 and how it gives effect to the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic law.

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 Information

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

Assessment Information

2 x summative assessments: 2x coursework with a specified word count (50% each)

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

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.