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International Criminal Law (LAWS0087)

‘International criminal law’ is a relatively new field of international law, and one that is surprisingly difficult to demarcate. Certain ‘international’ crimes spring readily to mind (such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression), but there are many other offences which international treaties require states to criminalize in domestic law, including torture and various offences related to terrorism. Conduct that is an element of one or more ‘international’ crimes may sometimes also be prosecuted as a more quotidian domestic crime; and, subject to international law rules governing the exercise of national criminal jurisdiction, ‘international’ crimes may be prosecuted in domestic courts, as well as in the specially-established tribunals with which international criminal law is often associated (such as the International Military Tribunals at Nuremberg and Tokyo; the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda; the International Criminal Court; and ‘hybrid’ tribunals like those for Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Lebanon). 

These complexities give a good sense of why international criminal law is interesting, not only for those committed to mastering the sub-field but for those with generalist or theoretical interests in international law. Aspects of international criminal law—particularly long-standing debates over aggression, and the focus of international criminal law on individual responsibility (and on the human person as victim)—are intertwined with the changing nature of the international legal order as a whole. International criminal law intersects with principles of general public international law in areas like jurisdiction and immunities, but has also generated a highly specific body of norms and jurisprudence, which the module will explore in detail. International criminal law showcases ways in which international law can develop (while shedding light on theories of sources and interpretation); illuminates the negotiation of procedural matters and institutional structures between often-divergent judicial and legal traditions; and poses fundamental questions about the interrelation of law and justice. 

Teaching in the module will focus on both careful legal analysis, and the larger historical, conceptual and normative questions to which the field gives rise; each informing the other. 

Module syllabus

This module is subject to change.

Topics covered in the course will include:

  • The range of crimes arising under customary international law and treaty, and definitions of ‘international crimes’;
  • The historical development of international criminal law;
  • Sources and interpretation in international criminal law;
  • Elements of select crimes;
  • Modes of responsibility;
  • Grounds for excluding responsibility;
  • Prosecution in national criminal courts (including matters of jurisdiction, immunities, statutory limitations, amnesties);
  • Prosecution in international criminal courts (including matters of jurisdiction, cooperation with states, immunities);
  • International criminal courts as institutions (personnel, bureaucratic norms, funding, accountability); 
  • Development of procedure in international criminal courts, and contested issues therein; and
  • International criminal law and international criminal justice: tensions and future possibilities. 

Recommended materials

Introductory reading on each topic will be assigned from one or both of the following books, and students may wish to purchase at least one of:

  • Roger O’Keefe, International Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2015); and
  • Robert Cryer, Hakan Friman, Darryl Robinson and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure, 3rd ed (Cambridge University Press, 2014) (note that a 4th edition is scheduled to appear 31 July 2019). 

We will also be using extracts from other works, and a range of articles and other texts. Individual seminar reading lists and these other course materials will be provided online, and available at the beginning of term.

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

Students with no previous knowledge of public international law should read one or more of:

  • Martin Dixon, Textbook on International Law, 7th ed (Oxford University Press, 2013) (paying particular attention to chapters 1 (nature of international law), 2 (sources of international law), 4 (international law and national law), and 6 (jurisdiction)); 
  • James Crawford and Martti Koskenniemi (eds), Cambridge Companion to International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2012); or 
  • Vaughan Lowe, International Law (Clarendon Press, 2007). 

Students seeking a very general preliminary overview of the field ahead of starting the module might like to look at the introductory chapter in Cryer et al, Introduction to Criminal Law and Procedure (details above). 

Key information

Module details 
Credit value:30 credits (15 ECTS, 300 learning hours)
Convenor:Megan Donaldson
Other Teachers:None
Teaching Delivery:20 x 2-hour weekly seminars, 10 seminars per week, Term One and Two
Who may enrol:LLM students only
Prerequisites:None, although this module does assume some familiarity with public international law, and students who have not studied public international law will need to commit additional time to learning the aspects of it most relevant to international criminal law (see suggested reading above). 
Must not be taken with:None
Qualifying module for:LLM in Law and Social Justice;
LLM in International Law
Assessment
Practice Assessment:Opportunity for feedback on one optional practice essay per term (two in total)
Final Assessment:Exam (100%)