Module code: LAW3134

Module Overview

This module is an introduction to two of the most important normative and moral questions that one can raise in relation to law and legal systems, and some of the most prominent philosophical attempts at answering them: whether and to what extent there is an obligation to obey the law and whether it is justifiable to punish law-breakers. Examples of the kind of topics that we shall be looking at in this module include the nature of legal obligations, authority and the duty to obey, the nature of (legal) punishment and various philosophical theories for the duty to obey and for the justification of punishment.

This module seeks to fit within the rest of the LLB syllabus by providing a reasoned and principled basis for deeper critical reflections and discussions about what the law ought to be, what role it should play in our societies and in our everyday lives more generally, and how we should relate ourselves to it. It provides background information useful in arguments over the justification or interpretation of laws and policies. It also hones skills in developing, expressing, and evaluating arguments as well as in research and digesting complex abstract subjects.

Module provider

School of Law

Module Leader

LEE Ambrose (Schl of Law)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 6

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 82

Lecture Hours: 22

Tutorial Hours: 6

Guided Learning: 18

Captured Content: 22

Module Availability

Semester 2

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content

Indicative topics and their more specific issues include:

Legal obligations and the duty to obey:

  • The nature of authority and the duty to obey

  • The challenge from Anarchism and the responses to it

  • Voluntarist theories

  • Non-voluntarist theories

The nature and justification of punishment:

  • Retributivism and Consequentialism

  • Hybrid theories and Communicative theories

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework 3000 word essay 100

Alternative Assessment


Assessment Strategy

  The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate:

  • The ability to develop and articulate their own independent views on abstract legal-philosophical issues.

  • The ability to develop and intelligibly explain their own arguments in support of them that are well-informed and are based on a sound but critical understanding of and engagement with the relevant extant literature.

  • The ability to carefully and independently reflect on the merits and demerits of one’s own views and arguments and properly address challenges and potential criticisms.

  Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

  • 3000 words coursework

  Formative assessment

  • 1500 words coursework on a given topic in which students will have to demonstrate all three of the above described abilities.

Feedback on the students’ abilities will be provided during class discussions in lectures and tutorials and in the written and/or verbal feedback that students will receive for their formatives. This feedback will enable the key skills and capabilities outlined before relating to Employability. Digital Capabilities, Global and Cultural Capabilities, Resourcefulness and Resilience to be developed in a supportive context, which can then be applied as appropriate to the summative assessments in this and other modules.

Module aims

  • By encouraging students to engage directly with sophisticated philosophical ideas and arguments, this module aims to develop an advanced critical understanding of predominant philosophical approaches to some of the most important normative and moral questions about law.
  • It aims not only to introduce these ideas but for students to be able to critique, analyse and evaluate them, and develop their own principled answers to such normative and moral questions about the law.

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Develop a critical appreciation of the more abstract normative and moral issues that law raises. KCPT
002 Develop informed, reflective and well-reasoned arguments in response to such issues and apply them (if and when relevant) to the evaluation of existing laws. KCPT
003 Research on abstract and theoretical topics and develop complex and philosophically-informed arguments on them. KCPT
004 Understand, explain and critically engage with predominant legal philosophy seeking to address the normative and moral questions that are raised by law. KCT
005 Read a philosophical text, engage with it critically and relate its content to their own arguments and understandings about the law. KCT

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

  The learning and teaching strategy is designed to:

  • Enable students to develop their own independent views on the issues covered in the module, develop well-informed and rigorous arguments in support of them by drawing on a critical understanding of the extant literature, and to defend their views against a wide variety of possible criticisms and counterarguments.

  • Engage students with different learning backgrounds and perspectives and maximize their learning by critically drawing out their own views and perspectives in class discussions.

Students will learn how to develop arguments in support of their own views and perspectives by critically engaging with the extant literature and the views and perspectives of their peers. They will also learn to defend them by anticipating and preempting possible criticisms and possible objections from different backgrounds and perspectives during class discussions. Students will begin to integrate all the presentation, writing, critical thinking and argumentation skills that they have learned in the previous modules, and apply them to address abstract legal-philosophical issues.

To achieve the above, the following learning and teaching methods will be used: lectures and tutorials.

Lectures follow a broadly Socratic method, with visual aids where appropriate to break down the extant theories. At various points during the lectures, questions will be posed to students in order to enable students to critically engage with the extant material, the views and arguments of their peers and to develop their own independent views and arguments in response to them.

Tutorials will also follow a broadly Socratic method and serves to consolidate understanding of the material covered and discussed during the lectures. However, unlike the lectures, students will be expected to conduct independent work and studies before coming to the tutorials. Tutorial questions will be released in advance to the guide student learning. Students are expected to have reflected on the relevant readings and materials, and develop their own informed arguments and views in response to those questions independently prior to coming to the tutorials. During the tutorials, students will be guided to explain and defend their views confidently and professionally, and to defend and/or critically engage with others in an informed and constructive way during the tutorials.

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: LAW3134

Other information

As one of the level 6 optional modules for the law programs, Legal Obligation and Punishment is committed to developing graduates with strengths in Employability, Digital Capabilities, Global and Cultural Capabilities, Sustainability and Resourcefulness and Resilience. This module is designed to allow students to develop knowledge, skills and capabilities in the following areas:


Key to being a good lawyer is the ability to make rigorous legally-informed arguments and to defend them both verbally and in writing. Building on the critical thinking and critical engagement skills that were introduced and developed in the Law and Contemporary Social Issues and the Jurisprudence modules, this module will further advance students’ abilities and competence in critical thinking and critical engagement by encouraging (though class discussions) and requiring (through assessments) students to critically engage with abstract and sophisticated legal philosophical material. Students will be invited, during class discussions and assessments, to develop their own views in relation to the issues discussed in the module and construct legally and philosophically informed arguments in support of them. Students will be encouraged to not only critically consider and engage with the extant theories and material, but also with each other’s argument. Through such exercises, students learn how to construct rigorous and strong arguments and the ability to defend their arguments by anticipating and preempting potential criticisms and objections. Students will be able to engage in these exercises verbally during discussions in the lecture and the tutorial. Assessments will require them to do so in writing. By the end of the module, student will be in the position to readily transfer these critical thinking and engagement skills to more concrete legal issues during their employment.

Digital Capabilities

In order to develop robust, rigorous and well-informed arguments for their views, students will need to conduct their own research using the electronic resources that are made available to them, both by the University and by the internet more broadly. This module therefore enables students to attain advanced legal research skills and digital capabilities. Students will not only be required to find research material from the electronic resources, they also need to judge their relevance and merit by themselves. Illustrative examples will be given and discussed during class, and feedback on students’ attempts in doing so will be provided during class discussions and in the formative feedback. Such advanced digital capabilities and legal research skills will also be essential for their employment after graduation. Besides advanced legal research skills, the assessment in this module will also train students’ advance digital capabilities in relation to preparing professional documents.

Global and Cultural Capabilities

The issues that are covered in this module will be explored from a variety of different perspectives during the lectures. We have a rather diverse background within our student body. Students will therefore be asked to bring in their own perspectives that are unique to their backgrounds to critically engage with the taught material. They will also be asked to engage with each other’s views critically but respectfully and to consider the limits of their own arguments, both during class discussions and in the assessment. This will enable students to appreciate and carefully consider the different perspectives that different people from different background and cultures take towards the same issues and how limited their own perspectives can be. Requiring students to anticipate and preempt possible objections and criticisms also train students to think in others’ shoes, especially those who disagree with oneself.

Resourcefulness and Resilience

There is no single absolute right answer to the kind of legal-philosophical issues covered in this module. It all depends on the quality of one’s arguments and defense. In that way, it is very similar to legal litigations in real life. Students will learn to be resourceful in their argumentation in this module. Through the critical engagement that they will receive during class discussions and formative feedback, students will learn to be agile in their thinking and when constructing and defending their own arguments. They will also have to work and think independently in order to come up with their own legal-philosophically informed arguments. They will learn to be reflective and be self-aware of the limitations of their own perspectives through the critical discussions with others and by anticipating and preempting criticisms from others. In order to do well in this module, students will have to be proactive in engaging with the material and others. Given the diverse opinions and views that can be brought to bear on the issues covered in this module, students will also learn how to regulate themselves properly during often heated and emotional debates.

Finally, and most importantly, by requiring students to argue for their views in class and in writing, this module enables students to develop the emotional resilience to not only stand up for oneself and argue for one’s view in an informed and sophisticated manner, but also to accept and properly respond to criticisms and those who disagree with one.

Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Law with International Relations LLB (Hons) 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Law with Criminology LLB (Hons) 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Law LLB (Hons) 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Law (Law and Technology Pathway) LLB (Hons) 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Law (Philosophy, Politics and Law Pathway) LLB (Hons) 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Law (Law, Environment and Sustainability Pathway) LLB (Hons) 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2025/6 academic year.