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School of Law

Legal systems of Asia and Africa

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

Legal systems of Asia and Africa - an introduction to the comparative study of law, based on a detailed examination of the norms, institutions and processes in major traditional and modern laws and legal systems of Asia and Africa.

The course covers Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Japanese, Islamic and African Laws, and focuses on a range of issues, e.g: 

  • sources of law; 
  • unification of laws; 
  • links between social, 
  • political and legal systems; 
  • processes of dispute settlement; 
  • legal profession and equivalents; 
  • western influences on traditional legal systems.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

In recent year, the course has become more explicitly jurisprudential and more deeply comparative, and students are now expected to learn in considerable depth how major legal theories and their dynamic interaction in different parts of the world and in the wider context of globalisation contribute to ongoing difficulties in upholding the rule of law.

On successful completion of the course, students will have acquired a sound understanding of different types of legal theory and their practical application in a variety of cultural and legal context. Further:

  • They will be able to handle a variety of source materials about different legal cultures and contexts and will have developed at least a basic understanding of how those legal systems ‘tick’.
  • Students will be able to pinpoint the connections and tensions between different types of law-making entities and will be able to handle problem-based analytical tasks.
  • Students will have developed critically important transferable skills in the analysis of primary and secondary legal sources, will have honed their expressional skills both orally and in writing, and will begin to develop their individual research skills in a variety of legal systems studied at SOAS.
  • Students will have learnt about the importance of precision in expression and documentation and thus will have begun to develop critical skills for young lawyers and social scientists.

Scope and syllabus

The course first offers an introduction to legal theory, with particular focus on different types of legal pluralism and major theories in a broadly historical context and then proceeds to introduce students to traditional and modern aspects, respectively, of Hindu law, Muslim Law, African laws and Chinese law. In most recent years, depending on availability of teachers, the scope of the course also covers specific jurisdictions, such as Japanese law, Southeast Asian law, Namibian and other Southern African laws, Turkish law and Pakistani law.

There has been more emphasis recently on the impact of globalisation and international laws on the debates about legal theory and on the dynamic interaction of conflicting sources of law in specific jurisdictions. The shift in emphasis results from the explicit recognition at the SOAS School of Law of the interconnectedness of sate law with other forms of law, and a desire to train competent young lawyers for the global employment market in top law firms and other international legal environments. 

Method of assessment

Assessment weighting: 30% coursework (one essay of 3,000 words); 70% unseen examination. Resubmission of coursework does apply to this course.