LLB Programmes


Mr Richard Gardiner

Public International law is the body of rules recognised as legally binding in their mutual relations by States and other entities that have international legal personality, such as international organisations, of which the most prominent is the United Nations.

International Law touches on every aspect of international relations and a knowledge of the subject is vital to a proper understanding of what is going on in the world. Without international law, international life as we know it today, with all its facilities for international communication, travel, and commerce, would soon grind almost to a halt; for all these and a great deal more depend on an intricate and ever growing network of treaties and rules of general international law.

Public international law has always been recognised as part of the law of the land in this country; but in recent years its impact on national legal systems has noticeably increased. This is because of an unprecedented growth in the number of treaties and international institutions that have either a direct or indirect effect within national jurisdictions. Thus even in general practice of law, cases involving aspects of public international law are more and more frequently encountered. Without a knowledge of the subject, with its distinct technique, one risks not recognising a problem of international law even if one comes across it, let alone not knowing how to solve it.

The present course covers the fundamentals of general international law. It is complete in itself, but it is also an excellent preparation for further specialisation in the LLM, for which the University of London offers unrivalled facilities.

From the career point of view, apart from the fact that public international law forms an important part of any lawyer’s training, for those who specialise in this field mention may be made inter alia of the Diplomatic Service, the Civil Service, international organisations and multinational corporations. From a wider point of view, no well-informed citizen should be without a basic understanding of the operation of international relations and law.

Topics treated include (but not necessarily in this order or in isolation):

  1. Introduction
    Definition - history - functions.
  2. Foundations of International Law
    The basis of international law - The creation and ascertainment of the rules of international law and obligations: Sources and evidence of international law - International law and municipal law.
  3. The Structure of the International Legal Order
    The United Nations system - Law-making in international society - Settlement of international disputes - Protection and enforcement of international rights - Legal and illegal uses of force.
  4. Subjects of International Law
    Concept of international legal personality - Acquisition and loss of international personality - Continuity and discontinuit of international personality - Recognition as a general device of international law - Types of international persons - States - Principle of sovereign equality - Representation.
  5. State Jurisdiction
    State sovereignty and State jurisdiction - Types of State jurisdiction - Limitations under international customary law, including immunities - Limitations under treaty law - Domestic jurisdiction - Human rights.
  6. Objects of International Law
    Territories and their classification - Acquisition, transfer and loss of national territory - Maritime frontiers and the regime of the high seas - Airspace and outer space - The allocation of other objects of international law among subjects of international law - The status of individuals.
  7. Law of Treaties
    Definition - Underlying principles - Conclusion of treaties - Effects - Interpretation - Invalidity - Jus cogens - Suspension and termination.
  8. International Responsibility
    Definition of an international unlawful act - Imputability - Fault - Reparation - International claims.

Method of study

The course is designed to place more emphasis on acquiring the skills necessary to research, understand and use international law than covering in detail every item on the syllabus. Students are expected to start the course with a general overview obtained from reading an introductory book. Work in both large groups and small groups consists of a variety of participatory exercises.

A study pack specially prepared for the course and a book of international law documents will provide the great majority of the materials to be studied. (These materials may be taken into the examination).


Both second and third year students are given the option of assessment either wholly by a 3 1/4 hour written examination or by both a 3 1/4 hour written examination and in part on the basis of an 8,000 word essay, which counts for 40% of the assessment.

Recommended reading

Akehurst’s Modern Introduction to International Law (7th ed., ed. Malanczuk, Routledge, 1997).

Documents Books:
Evans, M.D., Blackstone’s International Law Documents (Blackstone Press; latest edition).

Study pack (See above)

Further reading
Brownlie, I., Principles of Public International Law (Oxford University Press; 5th ed., 1998)


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