Introduction to English Common Law

Dr Joe SampsonMr John Adenitire and Ms Emily Gordon


The ‘Introduction to English Common Law’ course exposes students to the methods of construction and interpretation that characterise legal studies and practice in England and Wales. The syllabus is divided into three sections which build upon each other. Across all three students will be expected to engage with both the letter of the law and the issues that have given the law its current shape, dealing with doctrine and theory across a range of issues.

The first part of the course is introductory. The Common Law is characterised to a large extent by the idea of precedent – that the decisions of the higher courts are binding as law on future courts. Students will be shown how to read a case like a lawyer, and experience for themselves the difficulties of divining “the law” from a series of judicial opinions. Concepts such as ratio decidendi and obiter dicta will be introduced and analysed to assist in this. Students will also be given an overview of the structure of English law-making to help contextualise their studies.

The second part of the course examines various issues in Tort Law. Tort is a part of private law, which governs the relationships that exist between ordinary citizens. Sometimes when we wrong one another, the law imposes on obligation on the wrongdoer to pay compensation to the wronged party. These wrongs are known as torts. The course will cover a number of the most common torts: negligence, trespass to the person, and trespass to land. Students will read some of the leading cases in tort law, to see for themselves how this dynamic area of law has developed in recent years.

The final part of the course looks at the law of human rights and related constitutional law and theory. The first section examines what legal mechanisms exist to ensure that government and the legislature respect human rights generally. The second section then looks at various substantive rights, focusing first on the right to a fair trial and the right to access to justice, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. The final section investigates theories of human rights, with special focus on the possible conflict between democratic power and the judicial protection of human rights.

Intended Audience

This course is suitable both for students interested in further study and eventual practice in law, and those who are simply looking for an engaging intellectual subject. For the former, this course will afford the opportunity to see what studying law is like, and whether it is something they would like to pursue further. For the latter, the rich theoretical debates behind some of the issues that will be explored (e.g. when should the state sanction the infringement of individual liberties?) speak for themselves.

Previous Knowledge

No previous knowledge is required for this course.

Transferable Knowledge and Skills

Digesting and analysing complex sources written in technical language; constructing cogent arguments from complex sources; learning how to discuss sensitive issues and form convincing arguments in a group setting.