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Public international law

Module information>

Academic Direction
Laws Consortium
Modes of Study

This module concerns legal relations between states.

This module also deals with the role of the UN and other international organisations and, in the fields of human rights and international criminal law, the rights and duties of individuals.

Topics covered

  • The nature and significance of public international law. Define and understand what international law is, how it differs from domestic legal systems and the significance of these differences.
  • The sources of public international law. The emphasis is on treaties and customary international law, but the Statute of The International Court of Justice will also be alluded to.
  • International law and municipal law. Understand the place and effect of international law in domestic legal systems and how these differ in different states.
  • International personality. States, international organisations and others. International law is concerned with standing in international law. Whereas states are full participants, you must understand that other bodies have standing only for some purposes and in some tribunals.
  • Legal criteria of statehood. To a lay person this may seem unproblematic, but consideration of the status of such entities as Palestine, South Ossetia, Taiwan and even Kosovo exemplifies the complexity (and significance) of this section.
  • Principles of state jurisdiction, together with immunities. You will consider the legitimate powers of a state (and the limitations upon them) acting both within its own borders and extraterritorially. Immunity from jurisdiction is a significant limitation on these powers.
  • Human rights and international criminal law. The rise of the status of individuals in international law has been paralleled by the rise of international human rights obligations and responsibility for human rights abuses.
  • Settlement of international disputes both peacefully and with the lawful use of force. Chapters VI and VII of the United Nations Charter will be the focus of this topic.
  • The law of Treaties. You will develop Topic (b) with an understanding of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969, and consider in particular the formation and termination of treaties and the rules for their interpretation.
  • Law of the sea. Central focus here is upon the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 and upon the property regime there recognised.


Learning outcomes

If you complete the module successfully you should be able to:

  • Appreciate the significant differences and similarities of international law and domestic law   
  • Understand the methodology and procedures of international law and the possibilities it provides for international dispute resolution
  • Be aware of how and why political realities often constrain the application of international law and marginalise it where it might have been thought to be at its clearest and most significant.
  • Apply your knowledge to analyse complex legal questions and problems
  • Critique a range of legal materials and arguments
  • Conduct complex research exercises and use research evidence appropriately to support arguments.


4hr 15 mins unseen examination

Essential reading

  • Mansell, W. and K. Openshaw International law: a critical introduction. (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2019) second edition [ISBN 9781509926725].
  • Wallace, R. and O. Martin-Ortega International law. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2020) ninth edition [ISBN 9780414070790].