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Exploring legal meaning

What does law mean? Where does it come from and what does it do? This module uses a number of different perspectives to explore the place and meaning of law in the modern world. You will gain a broad understanding of how law works in different contexts and how its role can be understood from historical, social, political, and international perspectives. Throughout the module examples will be used to explore and illustrate these different perspectives. The examples range from areas such as the debate surrounding criminal responsibility of children to regulation of medical professionals and measures to tackle international corruption.


Start End England fee Register
07 Nov 2015 Apr 2016 £1360.00

Registration closes 23/10/15 (places subject to availability)

Click to register
This module is expected to start for the last time in November 2018.

What you will study

Through study on this 30-credit module you will develop a number of important postgraduate legal skills. You will be encouraged to debate, discuss and evaluate legal concepts and ideas. You will explore issues such as the debate surrounding criminal responsibility of children, regulation of medical professionals, measures to tackle international corruption and decision-making for adults who lack mental capacity. 

You will use online sources to identify, access, assess and evaluate relevant information. This evaluation will include consideration of the rigour and validity of the chosen information sources and their relevance. You will also engage in online debate and individual reflection.

Through your studies you will develop and maintain a critical awareness of contemporary legal literature, research and developments. You will learn to synthesise and apply legal principles in a logical and competent manner, enabling you to present a coherent, well-organised, reasoned argument. You will also demonstrate an awareness of the context of law, critically evaluate the need for law reform, identify, interpret and understand key legal rules, concepts and principles applicable across a wide range of legal areas. Together these will enable you to develop the depth and richness of thinking and understanding expected of postgraduate students in this area.

W820 is delivered online as it is seeking to develop postgraduate legal research and information literacy skills. Throughout your studies the different legal areas will also be used to explore legal meaning and enable you to look at law from different perspectives. Your studies will enable you to explore and utilise a range of skills to develop your understanding of legal perspectives, interpretation and meaning.

The module will be accessed online through a dedicated website. It will be possible to download the study materials and read them offline but many of the activities will require you to work online. You will be required to undertake online research. Access to the OU Library and online legal databases are provided as an integral part of W820. You will also have access to the Master of Laws (LLM) website.

Tuition will be conducted through online forums. Here students and tutors will contribute to the discussion, debate, exploration and evaluation of relevant research and legal perspectives. Participation in online tutorials forms part of the module assessment.

You can take this module on its own or as a module of our Master of Laws qualification.


To register for this module you must have an honours degree from a UK university or equivalent. Various higher education and professional qualifications are considered equivalent to an honours degree. If you hold a qualification that you believe is an equivalent level to a UK honours degree or if you lack formal academic qualifications but have relevant work experience, please speak to an adviser.

The module is taught in English, and your spoken and written English must be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study. If English is not your first language, we recommend that you seek assessment under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Please see their website for details.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


W820 is a compulsory module in our:

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.

Excluded combinations

Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content. To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with an adviser before registering.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

The study materials will be online and a printable version is available.

This module includes a requirement to undertake online research and the use of online forums; consequently time spent using a computer and the internet will be extensive. If you use assistive technology or have a hearing or speech impairment and have concerns about accessing this type of virtual environment and materials you can visit the system provider's website for information and contact the Open University to discuss it further before registering.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.

Study materials

What's included

As well as individual support from a tutor you will have university library access (including access to legal databases), specially-written online study materials designed exclusively for this module, audio-visual material and access to a dedicated W820 website. You will also have access to the Master of Laws website.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor  who you can contact by email or telephone, who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. 

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details can be found in the facts box above.

You are expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

You must submit the end-of-module assessment (EMA) electronically.

The eTMAs are scheduled at regular intervals. Extensive guidance is given on all assignments submitted. There are three eTMAs ranging from 1500 words to 2000 words and the EMA of 3500 words.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in November 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

Distance learning

The Open University is the world's leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you're at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you'll be supported throughout your studies - your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information about distance learning at the OU read Study explained.

Course facts
About this course:
Course code W820
Credits 30
OU Level Postgraduate
SCQF level 11
FHEQ level 7
Course work includes:
3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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