Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module LAW45215: Horizontal Human Rights

Department: Law

LAW45215: Horizontal Human Rights

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Not available in 2020/21


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module aims to introduce students to an emerging issue of human rights law: the invocation and protection of human rights in disputes between non-state actors, including state-like bodies, corporations and, even, other individuals.
  • The module aims to engage students in creatively thinking about the justifications and challenges of applying human rights to ‘horizontal’ disputes.


  • Do corporations such as Facebook or Google have a human rights obligation to observe the right to private life and, if so, on what basis? Do modern forms of slavery through domestic work violate regional and international human rights law? Can a baker refuse to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple? This module considers the relevance of human rights law in the adjudication of questions such as these. The ‘horizontal’ application of human rights to private parties, as opposed to their ‘vertical’ application in disputes between individuals and the state, is a developing field of human rights law and practice. The increasing influence of a variety of non-state actors (e.g. multinational corporations, global trafficking networks, and armed opposition groups) on the meaningful exercise of human rights suggest that these cannot be fulfilled through state action alone. Whereas the international legal order has generally construed human rights as pertaining to relations with the state, this is rapidly changing, thus allowing for an applied study of a growing body of human rights doctrine and case law at the international, regional, and national levels. Through a series of seminars spanning across different jurisdictions and areas of human rights law, the module introduces students to three theories of incorporation of human rights into disputes between private parties and engages both with their merits and with their potential problems, including the over-inflation of rights with private interests. Indicative content of seminars:
  • Seminar 1– Human Rights: Public and Private?
  • Seminar 2 – Theories of Horizontality I: State-mediated effect.
  • Seminar 3 – Theories of Horizontality II: Indirect Effect/Drittwirkung.
  • Seminar 4 – Theories of Horizontality III: Direct Effect.
  • Seminar 5 – The National Dimension: The Horizontal Effect of the Human Rights Act.
  • Seminar 6 – The Supranational Dimension: Horizontal Effect under the EU and ECHR.
  • Seminar 7 – The International Dimension: Transnational Corporations and Human Rights.
  • Seminar 8 – Convergence, challenges, and the charge of ‘rights inflation’.
  • If 'Protection of Human Rights in Europe’ module as well as this module both run in any one year, members of staff concerned must choose topics for seminars from the list of topics that ensure that there is no or minimal overlap between the two modules.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students should be able to:
  • Demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the different ways in which human rights can be filtered into disputes between private parties;
  • Show familiarity with, and an understanding of, the key critiques surrounding the horizontal application of human rights in the national, supranational, and international human rights context.
  • Have an appreciation of the differences and challenges posed by different rights (e.g. privacy, the freedom from slavery and servitude, non-discrimination).
  • Have an appreciation of the differences in the human rights obligations of different non-state actors.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students should be able to:
  • Identify and evaluate relevant documents within national, European, and international human rights law, as well as the theoretical and critical approaches informing their interpretation;
  • Apply these legal texts to examples of horizontal cases;
  • Apply the existing case law to other horizontal situations; and • Conduct independent research into the horizontal effect of human right
Key Skills:
  • Students should be able to:
  • Demonstrate an ability to understand and analyse critically a wide range of complex issues, drawing on a variety of materials;
  • Develop expertise in conducting legal research using materials from a variety of national, regional and international sources;
  • Describe accurately and coherently the arguments and analysis of academic commentators;
  • Debate constructively through reasoned and balanced oral discussion;
  • Write in a clear and structured way and put forward ideas in a scholarly manner; and
  • Demonstrate an ability to explore creatively complex issues in writing.

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

  • The module will be taught through eight 2-hour seminars, which will address each of the issues discussed under ‘Content’.
  • Seminars will focus on a set of questions for discussion, which will build on the essential and recommended reading. These are intended to draw out the key issues and enable students to apply their reading and to focus on the core elements of each class. An indicative reading list for the module is included below.
  • The seminar questions, together with a reading list for each seminar, will be made available at the beginning of the course, and will be supplemented by additional texts via DUO to ensure new developments are taken into account.
  • The seminar will be assessed through a 3,500-word essay, to be submitted during the third term, in which students will be asked to offer an independently researched, analytical argument. The essay will take the form of a single, open-ended question, which students will be able to tailor to their interests. Thus, whilst reasonably short, it will allow students to display a critical understanding of the material as well as to focus on their area they most enjoyed.
  • The formative assessment will consist of a detailed plan of the essay (up to 1000 words), on which the students will receive tailored feedback that they can then use to improve their summative paper.
  • Combined, the formative and summative assessments are designed to ensure that students have met the research, analysis and creative argumentation objectives of the module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Weekly 2 16
Prepararion and reading 134

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay 3,000 Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3,000 100% 3,000 words, different title

Formative Assessment:

1,500 word essay due before the end of 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