Public International Law

Subject LAWS50041 (2010)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2010.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 5 (Graduate/Postgraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject has the following teaching availabilities in 2010:

July, Parkville - Taught on campus.
Pre-teaching Period Start not applicable
Teaching Period not applicable
Assessment Period End not applicable
Last date to Self-Enrol not applicable
Census Date not applicable
Last date to Withdraw without fail not applicable


Timetable can be viewed here. For information about these dates, click here.
Time Commitment: Contact Hours: 36 hours, Winter intensive.
Total Time Commitment: 144 hours.

733-510 Legal Method and Reasoning; 733-511 Principles of Public Law; 733-512 Torts; 733-513 Obligations; 733-514 Dispute Resolution.

Corequisites: None.
Recommended Background Knowledge: None.
Non Allowed Subjects: None.
Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering requests for Reasonable Adjustments under the Disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Students Experiencing Academic Disadvantage Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Description, Subject Objectives, Generic Skills, and Assessment Requirements of this entry.

The University is dedicated to providing support to those with special requirements. Further details on the disability support scheme can be found at the Disability Liaison Unit website:


Prof Gerry Simpson


Melbourne Law School Student Centre
Tel: +61 3 8344 4475
Subject Overview:

Public International Law develops and enhances the understanding of international public law acquired in Principles of Public Law. This course will apply some of the doctrine and concepts studied in the foundational course to a host of areas in which international legal regulation plays a significant, sometimes decisive, role in inter-state and globalised relations.

The course is comprised of several topics (immunity, use of force, jurisdiction, the nature of sovereignty) that will be used to explore questions relating to the practice of international law in international politics and culture, the creation of international law, its application and its theoretical and historical underpinnings.

Close attention is paid to legal aspects of current developments e.g. the juridical basis for humanitarian intervention (say, in Darfur), the prosecution of alleged war criminals (e.g. Milosevic or Hussein) and the responsibility of states for serious violations of international humanitarian law (the Bosnia v Serbia genocide case) and for breaches of international economic law. There will be a particular focus on international law in domestic settings (e.g. Pinochet before the UK House of Lords, Hicks and Mabo in the Australian federal courts and Hamdan v Rumsfeld in the U.S. Supreme Court).

The international legal order remains relatively embryonic. It lacks a centralised form of law-making authority, an enforcement arm and compulsory adjudication. It is a very different sort of legal system with manifold weaknesses and, at least, one great strength: namely, its capacity to confront and, perhaps, contribute to the solution of, the most pressing problems facing humankind.


On completion of this subject, students should:

  • Understand the position and relevance of international law in the context of international politics and society;
  • Be able to use foundational concepts of public international law including statehood; sovereignty; responsibility; jurisdiction; territory; human rights and recognition;
  • Figure out the way public international law works in practice; its principal sources in treaties and custom; and the institutional structure of the UN system;
  • Have an appreciation of some advanced concepts of public international law;
  • Be able to engage in debate on the distinction between public international law at the international level and public international law as it is applied in domestic courts;
  • Know various important substantive areas of international law such as the law of war crimes, international economic law, human rights law and the law on the use of force;
  • Understand a little about the history of international law and the relevance of that history to the contemporary framework;
  • Appreciate the significance of the UN Charter;
  • Recognise the ways in which international law is both political and yet, also, detached or autonomous from politics.

Supervised open-book three-hour examination, following intensive period (100%).

Prescribed Texts:

Printed materials will be available from the Melbourne Law School.

Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:

On completion of the subject, students should have developed the following generic skills:

  • Attitudes towards knowledge that include both valuing (and understanding the dangers and limits of) truth, openness to new and neglected ideas and ethics associated with knowledge creation and usage;
  • The capacity for close reading and analysis of a range of sources;
  • Hope, reflection and irony;
  • The capacity for critical and independent thought and reflection;
  • The capacity to plan and manage time;
  • The capacity to work effectively in a team;
  • Intercultural sensitivity and understanding.

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