UCL Faculty of Laws


Constitutional Theory (LAWS0123)

This module provides an examination of theoretical aspects of constitutionalism, both analytical and normative

The works of important political and legal philosophers will constitute the mainstay of the course’s readings, mostly those from the twentieth century: Kelsen, Schmitt, Hayek, Rawls, Habermas, IM Young, Raz, Ackerman, Nussbaum, Waldron, Ely, Bellamy, and others.

The format of the seminars is highly participative. Students are invited to comment briefly on assigned questions each week. In past years, most students had read assigned readings and the discussion was conducted at a very high level. Guest speakers whose work has been assigned are invited from time to time. 

Module syllabus

This module is subject to change.

The subjects will include:

  • the nature and concept of constitutions
  • constituent power and constitutional dualism
  • constitutional change
  • deliberative democracy and constitutionalism (focusing on Rawls)
  • the rule of law (in its classic, liberal egalitarian, and social dimensions)
  • the legitimacy of judicial review
  • social justice and regulation

The content varies from time to time: other subjects have included group representation, constitutional design, religion and secularity, national emergencies, proportionality, and originalism.

Recommended materials

Module reading lists and other module materials will be provided via online module pages, once students have made their module selections upon enrolment.

Preliminary reading

Background reading (optional):

Theoretically grounded students could examine:

  • L. Alexander (ed), Constitutions: Philosophical Foundations (Cambridge University Press, 1998).

For an introduction to or refresher in jurisprudence, read:

  • N. Simmonds, Central Issues in Jurisprudence (3rd Edn, Sweet & Maxwell, 2008) (esp. on Hart and Dworkin, about whom basic knowledge will be presumed).

For the same in political philosophy, read either:

  • A. Swift, Political Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide for Students and Politicians (3rd Edn, Polity Press, 2013); or
  • W. Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy (2nd Edn, OUP, 2002) chs. 2, 3, 7.

Key information

Module details
Credit value:15 credits (7.5 ECTS, 150 learning hours)
Convenor:Paul Burgess
Other Teachers:None
Teaching Delivery:10 x 2-hour weekly seminars, Term Two
Who may enrol:Any UCL Master’s student
Must not be taken with:None
Qualifying module for:LLM in Public Law;
LLM in Jurisprudence and Legal Theory
Practice Assessment:Opportunity for feedback on plan for final essay in individual and group feedback sessions
Final Assessment:Essay (100%)