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Criminal law and the courts

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This module employs a range of multimedia sources and engaging activities to immerse you in key issues and debates relevant to the criminal justice system of England and Wales. The module will focus on a range of criminal offences, such as murder and theft, using real case studies, as well as aspects of criminal defences. You'll also address themes of law reform, campaigning, inequality and human rights.

What you will study

The module begins by discussing a selection of myths in criminal law, clarifying how and whether these ring true, for example, whether all criminal trials involve a jury. You'll see how cases are brought to court and why many crimes are never prosecuted at all.

You'll be introduced to:

  • different sources of law and the role of Parliament and the courts in developing criminal offences and defences
  • key criminal law concepts such as actus reus (wrongful act) and mens rea (blameworthy state of mind) through a case study of a real homicide case 
  • the law relating to a range of criminal offences such as murder, theft, criminal damage, and harassment.

Studying this module will also help to familiarise yourself with aspects of criminal defences with a particular focus on self-defence and duress.

The final part of the module explores youth justice, miscarriages of justice and double jeopardy. This will allow you to engage with a critical review of criminal law and help develop skills needed for onward study.

Throughout the module, you'll be encouraged to engage with themes of law reform, campaigning, inequality and human rights through a range of multimedia sources, interactive activities and module materials. You'll also have opportunities to develop key skills such as reading for understanding, note-taking and summary writing.

Entry requirements

This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for higher education and distance learning. It will give you the foundation knowledge and study skills to study law at a more advanced level (OU levels 2 and 3). By the end of the module, you will be expected to be working at the level required of first-year undergraduate students.

What's included

You will be provided with the module textbook Complete Criminal Law: Text, Cases and Materials 8th edition (Loveless, Allen and Derry) and have access to a module website, which includes:

  • an eBook version of the module textbook
  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access and tutor support.

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 Ventura 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.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Online tutorials will be provided, and recordings of these will typically be made available to students. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

You will also have a selection of additional online tutorials focussing on direct study support, library skills and specific assessment support.


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

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying W111 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Criminal law and the courts starts twice a year – in February and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024 and February 2025. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2029.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
2 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
No examination

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