Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)


Department: Law


Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap 150 Location Durham


  • Criminal Law (LAW 2221)


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To develop a detailed understanding of specialised aspects of criminal law in England and Wales through the study of selected topics in critical perspective.


  • The module will consist of critical analysis of six areas of criminal law. A selection of topics in the following indicative areas will run each year:
  • Obstetric violence
  • Protecting foetuses
  • Infanticide
  • Gender and homicide
  • Race/ethnicity and criminal offending
  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Consent
  • Terrorism
  • Forensic medicine and science
  • Criminal evidence
  • Sentencing theory, law and practice

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students should be able to demonstrate:
  • A thorough knowledge of certain selected issues in criminal law.
  • Critical assessment of key academic debates on selected issues within criminal law.
  • A familiarity with the policy and reform literatures on selected issues in criminal law.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students should be able to:
  • Identify legal and policy issues and arguments concerning selected issues in criminal law.
  • Critically evaluate how political, cultural, social, and historical factors affect legal approaches to selected issues in criminal law.
  • Appreciate that certain aspects of criminal law may be uncertain and complex, and critically evaluate the doctrinal coherence and consistency of English and Welsh criminal law.
Key Skills:
  • Students should be able to:
  • Develop research and writing skills, including the ability to work independently and to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • Engage in critical reading of legal, academic, and policy texts.
  • Identify relevant principles of law and analyse relevant case law.
  • Apply knowledge to complex situations, recognise potential alternative conclusions for particular situations, and provide supporting reasons for them.
  • Communicate complex ideas in writing.

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

  • The course will be taught as a series of twelve two-hour seminars, with two seminars dedicated to each of the six topics. Seminar worksheets will be provided for students in advance of each seminar in order to encourage students to engage in pre-session reading and preparation. The reading will be selected to enhance students’ capacity for evaluation and critical analysis. Seminars will allow students to develop their own ideas and perspectives through engagement in in-depth discussion of each topic.
  • The assessment will take the form of two formative and two summative assessments.
  • The formative assessments are designed to support students to prepare for the linked summative assessment, and feedback will reflect this (so will feedforward). Formative assessment one will be a 500-word plan of the critique of a criminal offence (for summative assessment 1), illustrating the key points of critique and analysis. Formative assessment two will be a 1,000 word essay plan (for summative assessment 2), illustrating the focus of analysis, key arguments being made (and sources used to support), and the structure of the essay.
  • There are two summative assessments.
  • The first is a 2,500 word critique of a criminal offence/defence covered in the module. Students will problematise a specific element of criminal law, so assessing the selected issue in policy, legal, political, social, cultural, and/or historical context. As such, students will be encouraged to take a narrow focus so as to provide an in-depth analysis of a key issue.
  • The second is a 4,000 word essay. Students will be provided with a list of questions based on topics covered in the module. Students will be required to critically assess a specific issue in contemporary criminal law, offering a critical analysis of the role of law to control and regulate the corresponding behaviour. Students will need to contextualise their evaluation in policy and legal context, and also take account of potential political, cultural, social, and/or historical factors. The essay question selected must focus on a different area of law as to that analysed in summative assessment one.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
seminars 12 Normally six each in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms 2 hrs 24
preparation and reading 176

Summative Assessment

Component: critique Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
critique of offence/defence 2,500 words 100% N
Component: essay Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
summative essay 4,000 words 100% N

Formative Assessment:

Epiphany Term: One 500 word plan of critique of criminal offence/defence. Epiphany Term: One 1,000 word essay plan.

â–  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