UCL Faculty of Laws


International Criminal Law (LAWS0237)

This module encompasses substantive law and procedure; international courts as institutions; and conceptual and normative challenges arising in the development, present operation, and future of international criminal law.

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‘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 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

Specific topics include:

  • The range of crimes arising under customary international law and treaty, and definitions of ‘international crimes’ over time;
  • Sources and interpretation in international criminal law;
  • 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);
  • Elements of select crimes;
  • Modes of responsibility;
  • Grounds for excluding responsibility;
  • Development of procedure in international criminal courts, and contested issues therein;
  • International criminal courts as institutions (personnel, bureaucratic norms, funding, accountability); and
  • International criminal law and international criminal justice: tensions and future possibilities.

Recommended materials

Core reading on each topic will be assigned from one or both of the following books (both of which are available from the library):

  • Roger O’Keefe, International Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2015); and
  • Robert Cryer, Darryl Robinson and Sergey Vasiliev, An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure, 4th ed (Cambridge University Press, 2019)

We will also be using extracts from other works, and a range of judgments, articles and other texts. Individual seminar reading lists and these other course materials will be provided via online module pages, available at the beginning of term once students have enrolled.

Preliminary reading

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

  • Jan Klabbers, International Law, 3rd ed (Cambridge University Press 2021), esp chapters 2, 3, 5, 7, 8; and

  • James Crawford and Martti Koskenniemi (eds), Cambridge Companion to International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

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:45 credits (450 learning hours)
Convenor:Megan Donaldson
Other Teachers:

Ruth Mackenzie, Phillipe Sands

Teaching Delivery:20 x 2-hour weekly seminars, 10 seminars per term, 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

Practice Assessment:TBD
Final Assessment:6000 word coursework (100%)