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Public law and criminal law

This module covers the relationship between the state and its citizens through a critical exploration of key principles in public and criminal law. You'll be introduced to constitutions in context and from various jurisdictions. You'll cover concepts such as the rule of law, sources of law, and the courts' constitutional role in England and Wales. The mechanisms for challenge and review of the actions of public bodies are considered and the role of public international law in the domestic context. You're also introduced to criminal law and criminalisation, which includes the general principles of criminal liability and various types of offences, such as property offences, homicide and non-fatal offences against the person. Defences and their historical development are also explored, reflecting the context and limits of crime.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 9 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module draws upon case studies, case law, and constitutions in context to critically examine the relationship between the state and the individual. In the first half of the module you'll learn about the fundamental constitutional principles, alongside areas of administrative law, In the second half you'll be introduced to general principles of criminal liability and criminalisation before covering offences and defences, placing these in their socio-political and historical contexts. 

Public law
You'll learn about the key features of the UK constitution in the context of a broader narrative about how constitutional arrangements evolve and change over time. The uncodified and incremental character of the UK constitution stresses its enduring and fairly static nature. As well as exploring the history of the UK constitution to highlight its evolution, you'll be introduced to a range of comparator constitutions from other jurisdictions which reveal the ways in which constitutional arrangements are shaped by and contingent on historical events. 

You'll learn the key concepts underpinning the UK constitution including the rule of law, the separation of powers and parliamentary sovereignty. You'll analyse the rule of law as a principle that has developed over time and in different places, exploring its different possible meanings and consider the extent to which the UK constitution complies with its central ideas.

You'll also consider judicial review, the mechanism that allows state decisions to be challenged by individuals in the courts. This is an important area of administrative law, which helps maintain the rule of law by keeping public power in check. You'll see how this is incorporated into the constitutional arrangements of other states, before analysing the UK approach in more detail including the impact of human rights law in recent decades.

You'll cover the topic of sovereignty – supreme authority – and critically reflect on whether the reality of sovereign authority is different from the theory, and whether parliament is actually sovereign. You'll also consider various challenges to this conception of sovereignty, including from international law, the European Union and the break-up of states into smaller, independent territories.

You'll complete your study of public law by evaluating the effectiveness of the operation of the UK constitution in protecting some of its key stakeholders. You'll analyse whether and how the parliamentary process maintains constitutional values, the community is safeguarded through the oversight of the police and the individual is protected through the incorporation of human rights and civil liberties.

Criminal law
The study of criminal law begins by placing the law itself in context by looking at how and why certain actions are criminalised by the state. You'll explore the elements of a criminal offence and some of the general principles underpinning the criminal law, including the standards of conduct and mental states required to commit criminal offences.

You'll look in more detail at a series of violent offences and some of the defences that may be used to deny that the actions that would otherwise constitute a crime are unlawful. You'll analyse the common law offence of murder and its impact on the law relating to intention as well as considering different forms of manslaughter. You'll look at the areas of corporate criminal responsibility – how corporations are made liable under the criminal law, particularly for homicide – and criminal law reform, the process by which reforms to criminal law are proposed and accepted or rejected. You'll also be introduced to selected offences against the person including assault and aggravated assault, and will evaluate the law relating to sexual offences, particularly rape. As part of this you'll consider some of the wider political and social factors that impact on this complex area.

In the closing units of the module, you'll be asked to critically analyse aspects of the criminal law, such as theft and burglary, through an evaluation of the concept of property as a fundamental part of the law. You'll consider the expanding limits of the criminal law in relation to inchoate offences, where the offender begins but does not complete committing a full criminal offence, and the mechanisms used to hold those other than primary offenders accountable for criminal acts. The module concludes by bringing together aspects of public and criminal law to explore the social, political and legal contexts of human trafficking and modern slavery.

This module emphasises the critical and comparative analysis of public and criminal law so you'll understand not only the provisions of the law but also how they may be critiqued and reconceptualised and how similar concerns are tackled in other jurisdictions. It provides a broad context for your understanding of rules and principles that form the law in these areas. Alongside this you'll develop transferable legal and general study and employability skills. The activities and assessments you undertake will support the growth of personal and academic skills in areas such as communication, research, information technology, problem solving skills and self-reflection and appraisal.

Professional recognition

If you are intending to use this module as part of the LLB, and you hope to enter the Legal Professions, you should read carefully the careers information on The Open University Law School website. There are different entry regulations into the legal professions in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. You should read the information on the website as it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet these requirements.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You’ll have a tutor with whom you can communicate by email, online forum, online conferencing, phone and, if required, post. Your tutor will help you with the study material, mark and comment on your written work, and provide advice and guidance, if you need it. Your tutor will also run online tutorials that you are encouraged to attend. You will also be offered three, one-to-one, sessions with your tutor. These sessions are used to support you with your studies.

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


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

You will be 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.

Future availability

Public law and criminal law starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2023 when we expect it to start for the last time.


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

    Course work includes:

    4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    This is an OU level 2 module and you will need the study skills required for this level of study, which may have been obtained either from OU level 1 study or from another university.

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


    Start End England fee Register
    07 Oct 2023 Jun 2024 £3462.00

    Registration closes 07/09/23 (places subject to availability)

    October 2023 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2024. Fees normally increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

    This information was provided on 09/06/2023.

    Can you study an Access module for free?

    In order to qualify, you must:

    1. be resident in England
    2. have a personal income of less than £25,000 (or receive qualifying benefits)
    3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above, or completed 30 credits or more of OU study

    How to apply to study an Access module for free

    Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible.

    If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069 or you can request a call back.

    Not eligible to study for free?

    Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

    • monthly payments through OUSBA
    • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

    To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

    What's included

    You'll be provided with two text books:

    • Ian Loveland, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, and Human Rights: A critical introduction
    • Kyd, S, Elliott, T. and Walters, M.A. (2017)  Clarkson and Keating Criminal Law: Text and Materials.

     You’ll also have access to a module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • module materials
    • assessment guides
    • online tutorials and forums 
    • electronic versions of the text books.

    Computing requirements

    You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).

    Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

    It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying W203 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.