Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module LAW43315: Free Speech Problems in International and Comparative Perspective

Department: Law

LAW43315: Free Speech Problems in International and Comparative Perspective

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • to provide an in-depth study of particular problems of free speech protection, their relationship to key theoretical justifications for freedom of expression and to the general approach to speech protection adopted by international and national courts. The field of study will encompass English law, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the jurisdictions of Canada, Australia and the US. Briefer mention will also be made of French and German approaches where particularly illuminating.


  • free speech theories in critical perspective;
  • the particular theoretical controversies surrounding the legitimacy or otherwise of restricting speech that may be termed offensive, obscene or hateful, including introductions to influential approaches based on liberalism, communitarianism/civic republicanism and critical race theory;
  • general principles developed by national courts for the review of restrictions on free speech, including clear legal basis, legitimate aim, proportionality, balancing, deference; assessment of “high” and “low value” speech;
  • detailed knowledge of the applicable general principles of the European Convention on Human Rights developed under Articles 9 and 10, in particular, the hierarchy of speech, proportionality and margin of appreciation, and basic awareness of relevant UN standards;
  • comparative study of restrictions on speech based on: (a) obscenity, indecency and the control of pornography; (b) incitement to racial hatred and holocaust denial; (c) blasphemy and incitement to hatred based on religious belief; (d) incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation including conflict with freedom of religious expression.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On completion of the module, students will:
  • understand the theoretical problems underlying conflicts between free speech and other individual rights and important social goals;
  • have an in-depth critical understanding of the legal rules and principles governing the topics studied;
  • appreciate the ways in which different national and international courts take different evaluative and normative approaches to resolving such conflicts;
Subject-specific Skills:
  • On completion of the module, students will be able to:
  • identify and analyse strands of common and contrasting reasoning across different jurisdictions in approaching such conflicts;
  • appreciate how particular problems to free speech problems relate to deeper constitutional values in particular jurisdictions;
  • be able to situate current legal controversies relating to the areas of law studied in their historical, political and social context.
Key Skills:
  • Students will develop:
  • skills in conducting research into legal materials from a variety of national and international jurisdictions;
  • their abilities to summarise concisely and critically analyse legal rules, principles and values both orally and in writing;
  • their abilities to investigate and analyse linkages between legal and constitutional theory and legal outcomes.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The teaching will be based on seminars supported by in-depth but targeted reading drawn from both primary and secondary sources;
  • The seminar questions and directed discussion will be designed to facilitate and build knowledge, understanding and critical insights;
  • The method of assessment will test student’s ability to meet the relevant learning outcomes. The summative essay will require independent research, assess the extent to which students have developed an overall grasp of the subject matter and underlying theoretical issues in comparative perspective, and test their ability to engage in critical analysis through a structured argument.
  • The formative essay will assist in preparation for the summative essay

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Weekly 2 16
Preparation and Reading 134
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Summative Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 100% 3000 words, different title

Formative Assessment:

Students will to complete an essay of no more than 1500 words on a topic that will be provided in week 2 of the Term

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University