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Public law

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This module introduces you to the fundamentals of UK constitutional, administrative and human rights law from various perspectives, including critical, geographical and historical. It explores the past, present and future of the UK constitution to enable you to gain an understanding of historical and contemporary issues affecting the relationship between the citizen and the state in the UK. Two central themes run through the module: human rights, and the perspectives of the four UK nations. Alongside this, you'll develop your ability to carry out independent legal research, formulate legal arguments and understand others’ perspectives.

What you will study

This module covers important aspects of the relationship between the state and the individual in the UK from the perspectives of the UK nations: Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. It focuses on understanding the geographical scope and historical development of the UK Constitution, key current constitutional issues, and how the future of the UK Constitution may look. Throughout the module, you'll develop a range of skills, including how to carry out your own research into UK public law. You will study three blocks of content.

The introductory unit of the first block introduces the module and its unique elements and guides you in studying it. The following two units then introduce the past and present of the UK Constitution and the fundamental principles of UK constitutional law. The final unit introduces two key themes of the module: the perspectives of the four UK nations; and human rights and civil liberties within the constitution.

The second block is divided into two streams and you'll study one of these.
You can explore the power the state has to act over individuals, and the freedoms and rights individuals have in relation to the state. It starts by considering whether and how the UK state and devolved governments are accountable to the people, then examines contemporary human rights issues. You'll look at how the state can maintain the rule of law when responding to an emergency situation, such as the coronavirus pandemic, and investigate the growing power of the executive branch, through the use of the prerogative and secondary legislation.

Alternatively, you can imagine what the UK Constitution might look like in the future in light of its historical evolution and the challenges it faces today. This begins by exploring the differing constitutional histories of the nations of the UK to understand its present challenges. You'll go on to consider how human rights can best be protected in constitutions and may be used to tackle emerging issues in the constitution. You'll also look at how to reshape the Union itself and examine the impact of the UK’s exit from the European Union on the structure of the constitution.

The final block builds on everything learned so far to examine a number of aspects of constitutional and administrative law. It begins by exploring the imperial history of the UK and its impact on the current constitution. It then considers what sort of underlying values should found a constitution and how constitutions evolve to respond to changing societies. You'll study citizenship and the treatment of outsider groups in the Constitution and consider the relationship between individuals, democracy and the Constitution. The block concludes by examining aspects of administrative law, including the nature and impact of law-making by administrative bodies and role of judicial review and the courts in the UK Constitution.

Entry requirements

If you are new to study at university level or are returning after some time, we recommend that you first study an OU level 1 law module such as Criminal law and the courts (W111) or Civil justice and tort law (W112), unless you are a graduate entry student.

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

Preparatory work

You might find the following resources useful in preparation for this module:

What's included

You will be provided with the module textbook Public Law 3rd edition (Stanton and Prescott) 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
  • a downloadable Research handbook to support the development of your research skills
  • electronic versions of books to support your studies
  • 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

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • facilitating online discussions between your fellow students in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Recordings of online tutorials 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 library and research skills.


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

This module also uses assessment builder activities (ABAs). These are intended to support the development of research and related skills as you progress through the module and spread the assessed workload more evenly throughout the module. They involve completing tasks that form part of tutor-marked assignment (TMA) credit by an interim deadline before the main TMA deadline. ABAs may require you to post work to your tutor group forum and reply to posts submitted by other students.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying W211 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

Public law starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2029.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
No examination