Public International Law

There has never been a more exciting time to study Public International Law (PIL). Issues of PIL and international justice are at the forefront of public debates to a greater degree than ever before. International law provides the technical and intellectual underpinnings to large areas of international co-operation, including the prosecution of war crimes (both internationally and nationally), the legality of the use of force against States (e.g. Syria and Iraq), environmental protection, the scope of human rights protection, the economic effects of globalisation promoted through the work of institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the settlement of land and maritime boundary disputes, and the resolution of jurisdictional conflicts arising in the context of economic regulation by States.

PIL today not only impacts and shapes decisions by States to a greater degree than ever before, but it also penetrates into the national legal order – often through national court decisions – to give rights to individuals and corporations to an extent that is unrivalled in the history of the subject. These developments have in turn led to the growth of lawyers and law firms who specialise in the practice of PIL. This is in addition to the demand for PIL lawyers in governments, inter-governmental organizations (such as the United Nations and the large number of UN Specialized Agencies), and non-governmental organizations. For those who do not intend to follow a career in international law, the subject provides a broad sweep of issues which illuminate not merely questions of international law but the problems and processes of the world of diplomacy.

The PIL course at Oxford covers the major areas of general international law and is not over-specialized. The lectures cover the core tutorial topics on the nature and sources of international law, the law of treaties, international legal personality, jurisdiction and immunities, State responsibility, the use of force and the procedures for peaceful settlement of disputes. In addition, the lectures introduce students to selected special subject areas such the law of the sea, international humanitarian law and investment arbitration. The consideration of these subject areas takes place within their broader policy context and having regard to recent experience.

Although in principle the syllabus is extensive, both the teaching practice and the mode of setting the FHS paper avoid any drawbacks which might result from this wide scope. Students will find that it is not necessary to know the whole syllabus from A to Z, and  the Schools paper provides a wide selection of questions.

Learning outcomes: an understanding of a variety of areas of Public International Law selected from a list which covers laws relating to international relations, international economic issues and human rights, amongst others.