Module Identifier LA33610  
Module Title LEGAL THEORY  
Academic Year 2003/2004  
Co-ordinator Mr Richard W Ireland  
Semester Semester 2  
Course delivery Seminars / Tutorials   4 Hours Seminar.  
  Lecture   20 Hours  
Assessment TypeAssessment Length/DetailsProportion
Semester Exam1.5 Hours  50%
Semester Assessment Essay: Assessed essay of 2000 words (required in week 8).  50%
Professional Exemptions Not Required for Professional Purposes  

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:
To acquire knowledge of certain classical and enduring debates in an approach to an understanding of legal phenomena. To develop powers of analysis, critical thought and appropriate modes of argumentation in the consideration of such material. To ask questions of the law and provide indications of the directions in which answers might be sought.

Brief description

Does law have a necessary connection with morality? Can we argue that an unjust law is nota real law? Is law simply the exercise of power or a form of state bullying? We talk of it as involving rules, but what is a rule, and how can it cover all eventualities? What is a judge really doing in declaring the law to cover a particular case?

These are the types of issue which are addressed in the course entitled "legal theory". No prior acquaintance with philosophy is required nor do there exist any "prerequisites" for entry into the course. The aim is to provide all those involved with a grasp of the "larger questions" concerning their chosen subject of study - the seemingly autonomous discipline of law. If we do not have the "answers", at least we will all have a better grasp of the sense of our questions - "sense" as distinct from "non-sense".


To introduce students to and then develop their capacity for a critical reflective attitude towards the consideration of law as a whole rather than merely consider its constituent substantive elements. Philosophical perspectives and consideration of wider ethical and conceptual issues inform the student's analytical capacity.


1. Natural Law Theory

What is the relationship, if any, between law and morality? Can we take the maxim "lex injusta non est lex" ("an unjust law is no law") literally? The writings of St.Thomas Aquinas, Professor John Finnis, Professor Lon Fuller and others will be considered.

2. Positivism I

The "command theory". Is law a matter of the orders of a sovereign directed at those who are in a position of habitual obedience where these orders are backed by sanctions? The writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Austin will be considered.

3. Positivism II

In an understanding of the nature of law related to an understanding of the nature of rules? Is law a matter of rules? What do we mean by a rule? Do rules run out in "hard cases" or is law a "seamless web" which provides us with a right answer even in the most difficult of cases? Our focus will be on the writings of Professor H.L.A. Hart and Professor Ronald Dworkin.

4. Positivism III

Is law an autonomous phenomenon? Can we understand law without an understanding of the social context in which it operates? Is it separate from "other disciplines" such as politics, economics, sociology, etc.? The most important writings in this area remain those of Professor Hans Kelsen's.

5. Theories of Justice

What is Justice? How does it/should it relate to law?

Reading Lists

Students will be further advised at the beginning of the course
** Recommended Text
J W Harris Legal Philosophies London: Butterworths 1980
H L A Hart The Concept of Law Oxford: Clarendon Press 1961
Howard Davies and David Holdcroft Jurisprudence - Text and Commentary London: Butterworths 1991
W Morrison Jurisprudence


This module is at CQFW Level 6