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Constitutional & Administrative Law (Senior Status)


Module description

Constitutional and administrative law (also referred to as 'public law') is concerned with the legal rules and processes that structure and regulate a country's government, ie the relations amongst its key institutions, as well as the relationship between these institutions and the individual citizen. In this module we will 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 and who actually uses the rules, when, and with what results.

Studying the public law together with the key political facts and values that determine its real function is particularly appropriate in the United Kingdom 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.

The course begins with a comparative and historical account of the development of the idea of constitutionalism. The sources and mechanisms of the UK's unwritten constitution are compared with both American and European constitutional traditions. The course moves on to critically examine the links between the principle of legal governance to conceptions of democratic control, power, legitimacy and constitutional reform.

Topics covered include the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law, Europe and the constitution, Royal prerogative, government and administration, human rights, police powers, official secrets, freedom of speech and the right to protest, judicial review of executive action.

Learning objectives

Completing this module will equip you with:

  • a critical understanding of key concepts underlying modern constitutional democracies and a sufficient ability to seek, follow and 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 Law (or: Public Law), of 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
  • the ability to manage your own learning and carry out independent research
  • competence in communicating information and ideas to a specialist and non-specialist audience of staff and peers.