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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Law : Law

Postgraduate Course: Advanced Comparative Constitutional Law (LAWS11385)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Law CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis is an advanced course in public law (but the course content presumes no prior legal training and an undergraduate law degree is not a prerequisite).

The course will engage at an intensive level with particular themes and issues emerging in contemporary comparative constitutional law and applied constitutional theory, and a focus on other Commonwealth jurisdictions as they relate to current issues in British constitutionalism. In particular, the course will examine: the methodology and substance of comparative constitutional law as a discrete sub-discipline of public law; the theory and practice of plurinational constitutionalism across the globe; constitutional identity, integration and accommodation in deeply divided societies; theories of secession; the theory and practice of constitutional transitions; dialogic constitutionalism and the parliamentary state, and democratic dialogue more generally (including European, Latin American, South African, and South Asian variants); and current issues in Westminster-model constitutionalism beyond the West in South Asia, Asia Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.

At the end of the course, students would gain a solid grounding in the methods of comparative constitutional law, a good awareness of some of its major current doctrinal and theoretical concerns, and perhaps equally importantly, an opportunity to take a virtual empirical 'world tour' of countries.
Course description In recent decades the comparative approach to studying constitutional law has become a major and perhaps even a dominant method in the field. It has generated a very substantial literature and the course reading will reflect many of the central texts. Adopting this comparative approach, students will be expected to develop a sophisticated sense of how to read relevant primary materials, such as constitutions, primary and secondary legislation, and key political documents such as peace agreements.

They will also be expected to develop the ability to engage with demanding secondary texts dealing with substantive constitutional law, theoretical work that helps us to understand constitutionalism in context, and literature from relevant related disciplines like comparative politics, political sociology, constitutional history, and political economy. Through consideration of major themes (see short description above), they will have the opportunity to consider how these play out in distinctive political, social, economic, and cultural contexts of countries in different regions of the world.

The course will address the following core elements. Reading lists and seminar sheets will be developed two to three weeks in advance to keep the subject-matter fresh. See short description above for an outline of the core content of the course. It will consider questions like the following:

What is 'comparative constitutional law'? What are its major concerns and what are its boundaries? Why has it become a popular approach in constitutional law today? What specific methodological issues arise when we adopt a comparative approach to constitutional law? What are the main substantive and methodological critiques of comparative constitutional law?

How do we approach 'multinational states' as a sociologically distinctive category of polity? What are the main theoretical arguments and institutional strategies in addressing the specific constitutional challenges of such countries? This part of the course would also take a closer consideration of the liberal democratic model called the 'plurinational state' in addressing the constitutional problems of multinational polities, its theoretical foundations, substantive features, the practical challenges that confront the plurinational state as a viable model of constitutional accommodation, and looks comparatively at empirical cases studies such as the UK, Spain, Canada, and Belgium.

What happens when constitutional accommodation fails in multinational / plurinational or otherwise plural societies? In the context of Scotland after the Brexit and independence referendums (and the possibility of a second independence referendum), we look at the difficult issue of secession as a solution to autonomy claims from the perspective of competing theoretical accounts of secession, such as 'consensual', 'choice' and 'just cause' categories.

What is a 'constitutional transition'? How do we define this? Why is it important? What are the types or models of constitutional transition that have been identified in the academic literature? Are Scotland and the UK in a constitutional transition? If so, how does it relate to these models of transition?

Outline Content:

The course also takes a comparative look at how some of the main constitutional characteristics of the Westminster system of parliamentary government have been applied in the different social, cultural and political context of countries in the broader Commonwealth, and what insights this affords us for a deeper understanding of current debates on the UK constitution itself, including the relationship between legal and political models of constitutionalism, institutional dialogue, territorial organisation of states, and constitutional design.

Student Learning Experience:

The course will be seminar-based with students taking a 2-hour seminar every week. Students will be assigned assessed class presentation topics, which would serve as the basis for collective discussion.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the distinctive field of comparative constitutional law; its methodology, contested boundaries, and some of its main internal schools of thought; and a critical understanding of the major theories, concepts, principles, and current controversies.
  2. Critically apply comparative techniques to the study of general constitutional concepts and different jurisdictions.
  3. Exercise skills of conceptualisation, critical analysis, comparative evaluation, and apply theory to practice and vice versa.
  4. Employ skills of spoken and written communication in relation to the study of an advanced literature encompassing legal doctrine as well as analytical and normative theory
  5. Independently read and analyse across inter- disciplinary source materials, construct shared understanding by participation in class presentations and discussion, and an ability to distil a wide and varied body of knowledge in the form of an assessed essay, with an appropriate balance of description, critique, analysis, and economy of expression.
Reading List
There is no single textbook that will cover the content of the course. However, major texts (e.g., Oxford Handbook) and journals relevant to the course are already available in the Law Library and in most if not all cases available online. Any new resources will be acquired through the normal process via the Library Committee. Students will also be encouraged to keep abreast of new developments through the main academic blogs in the field (e.g., UK Constitutional Law Blog) and other reliable online resources (e.g., ConstitutionNet).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Students will develop the skills of working independently in the critical analysis of legal and non-legal source materials.

They will gain experience in establishing the relevance of non-legal academic disciplines to understanding the formation and content of primary legal doctrines and underlying theories on comparative constitutional law and its current development.

Clarity of written and spoken expression of abstract concepts will be an essential attribute to successful participation in the course.

By interactive discussion, they will learn the value of shared dialogue to the formation and refinement of their thinking.
KeywordsComparative constitutional law / theory,plurinationalism,dialogue,secession,Westminster model
Course organiserDr Asanga Welikala
Tel: (0131 6)50 6520
Course secretaryMs Florence Finlayson
Tel: (0131 6)50 9588
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