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Constitutional and Administrative Law


Module description

Constitutional and administrative (or public) law is concerned primarily with the legal rules and processes that structure and regulate a country’s government, i.e. the relations amongst its key institutions, and between these institutions and the individual citizen.

In this module, however, we pay equal attention to the study of the historical and contemporary social and political facts and values which qualify the function of such rules. We will look at legal rules in terms of the effect one rule may have on another, as well as how they came about, who uses them, when and with what results. This is particularly appropriate in the UK because its constitution, unlike most other countries, is neither codified in a single, legally binding document nor considered to be supreme law that could override the Parliament’s will. Instead, the UK Parliament is considered entirely free to legislate on any subject matter. As a result, the sources of the un-codified British constitution range from a plethora of statutes (Acts of Parliament) and common law (judge-made rules) to political habits (‘conventions’), all of which are subject to change. 

When studying constitutional and administrative law, it is important to develop, as soon as possible, a sense of how the different elements fit together. Fundamental topics such as parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law will be relevant in a variety of different contexts as a wide range of topics are studied, such as judicial review of administrative action or human rights.

To understand the historical and political dimension of British constitutional and administrative law, we recommend using government or reputable independent think-tank websites or media, such as the UK Parliament, Institute for Government, UK Constitutional Law Association, The GuardianThe Times and The Daily Telegraph, as well as the BBC website.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have: 

  • a critical understanding of key concepts underlying modern constitutional democracies and be able to use contemporary research and debates about the subject
  • a good understanding of the basic structure of British government
  • a critical understanding of key rules and principles of constitutional and administrative (or public) law, how these are deployed to devise and sustain arguments and/or solve problems, and how they may be re-deployed
  • the ability to read, understand and assess critically key public law cases, statutes, academic opinion as well as relevant media reports on the intersection of law and politics in the UK and beyond
  • the means to detect, describe and reflect critically on the uncertainty, ambiguity, limits and developmental potential of public law and the political implications of orthodox understandings and uses of it
  • the ability to critically evaluate arguments, assumptions, abstract concepts and data to frame appropriate questions to achieve a solution, or a range of solutions to a problem concerning the relation of law to politics.