Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)


Department: Law


Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Not available in 2022/23 Module Cap Location Durham


  • The Individual and The State (LAW1081), OR, at the discretion of the Chair of the Board of Studies or delegate, a suitable module from another Department.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • to provide a 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 and the US. Briefer mention will also be made of Australian, Dutch 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, feminism 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 a critical understanding of the legal rules and principles governing the topics studied;
  • appreciate the ways in which different national and international courts take different approaches to resolving such conflicts and how these distinct perspectives are partly rooted in culture and nationality.
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 free speech conflicts;
  • make reasoned judgement on the effectiveness of specific laws and the desirability of their reform;
  • situate current legal controversies relating to the areas of law studied in their historical, political and social contexts.
Key Skills:
  • Students will develop:
  • skills in conducting research into legal materials from a variety of national and international jurisdictions;
  • abilities to summarise concisely and critically legal rules, principles and values;
  • skills in investigating and analysing linkages between legal and constitutional theory and legal outcomes;
  • intellectual capacity to recognise potential alternative conclusions to particular legal problems.

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 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 students' ability to meet the relevant learning outcomes. The summative essay will require some degree of 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 consist of the development and drafting of a detailed plan for the summative essay and so will directly assist students in preparing for the summative assessment.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminar 6 Weekly 2 hours 12
Preparation and reading 88

Summative Assessment

Component: Summative Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
summative essay 3,000 words 100% Y

Formative Assessment:

Students will prepare a plan and outline of their summative essays of no more than 1000 words.

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