Legal Systems of Asia and Africa

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Law, Gender and Media

Module overview

This module introduces students to the study of the traditional and modern legal systems of Asian and African countries. The course will begin by introducing students to ways of thinking about the 'law' and 'legal systems'. It will also offer an analysis of the impact of empire and colonialism (especially European/British) on the legal systems of Asia and Africa. In Term 1, the module identifies distinct legal families on a historical basis while exploring key concepts of legal anthropology and legal sociology, such as legal pluralism, legal transplants and the place of customary laws in the modern world. In Term 2, legal systems are distinguished and analysed by reference to the political dispensations in which they exist and which they may play a role in constituting. Instrumental uses of law and the role of lawyers in authoritarian and other types of legal system are explored and analysed by reference to selected country case studies from within the SOAS mandate region. Finally, the efforts of States to (re)build fragile legal systems in the aftermath of periods of conflict and repression and to establish the rule of law are analysed using selected Asian and African case studies. The role of international law and its interaction with these domestic and regional efforts is also explored.

This dynamic module aims to make the most of the regional research expertise of our colleagues at the School of Law and case-studies are regularly changed and updated to reflect this expertise and explore some of the topical legal issues in the SOAS mandate region.

Student Testimonial

"Legal Systems of Asia and Africa was a pivotal moment in my legal studies, enabling us to truly apply our legal studies outside the English legal system as well as explore critical legal theory. The critical attitude of the SOAS course meant students could feel as though they were at the forefront of legal thought.”

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of the nature and practice of Asian and African Legal Systems
  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of the relationship between the different sources of the law and State law
  • Critically understand and appreciate the importance of different sources of legal authority
  • Utilise relevant materials and information on international, regional and domestic legal systems
  • Synthesise and critically asses the content of domestic law and in particular State law
  • Conduct independent legal research into different legal systems and their relationship to one another
  • Communicate complex ideas and concepts in written and oral form


  • Weekly 2 hour lecture
  • 1 hour tutorial (please see syllabus for details of when tutorials are scheduled)

Method of assessment

Coursework: 30% (3000 words)
Unseen written exam: 70%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules