Introduction to English Common Law

Lecturers: Joe Sampson and John Adenitire

EnglishThe course aims to provide students with an understanding of common law procedure, common law reasoning and argumentation, as well as an understanding of the place of human rights within the contemporary English legal system. To this end, the course is intended to foster understanding through activities and reading. This course consists of three parts:

Part I: Legal System

Part II: Case-law Method: the Common Law

Part III: Murder and Defamation

In Part I there will be an introductory lecture and a visit to the Crown or Magistrates’ Court, including the completion of a court observation form as part of a learning log. Seminars will be used to discuss the court observation, the notion of a fair trial and how the various actors in the court process contribute to the idea of a fair trial. Students will complete the learning log by bringing together their observations, reflections, readings and discussions.

In Part II lectures will examine the sources of English common law from domestic legislation and judge-made case law to international treaties and the law of the European Union. In seminars, students will be introduced to reading cases, discovering the judges’ legal reasoning and applying the principles to new legal problems.

In Part III students will concentrate on the development of case-law and recent legislative changes in relation to the crime of murder and the civil wrong of defamation. Seminars will explore causation and intent, general and partial defences to murder, and defences to defamation.

Pre-requisite knowledge required: No prior knowledge of English law is required, but it is desirable that a student has taken some law courses before. If you’re interested in this course, you might also like to consider taking Revolutions of the Mind: Political Thinking in Britain from Hobbes to Mill, or Understanding World Politics: A Critical Overview of Core Issues and Theories.

Reading: Please note that the purchase of Alisdair Gillespie’s The English Legal System (OUP 2015, 5th edn) being the key text for the course is highly recommended. Detailed readings will be added nearer the start of the programme.


Reflective log on court observation: 20%

Final Submitted Essay: 30%

Final Exam: 50%

Lecture Hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)

Seminar Hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)