Legal Systems of Asia and Africa I

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 2
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Law

Module overview

This module introduces students to the study of the traditional and modern legal systems of Asian and African countries.

We begin by exploring different ways of thinking about the 'law' and 'legal systems' before turning to key concepts of legal anthropology and legal sociology, such as legal pluralism, legal transplants and the place of customary and religion-based laws in the modern world. Throughout the module we offer an analysis of the impact of empire and colonialism (especially European/British) on the legal systems of Asia and Africa. We also pay particular attention to the concerns of gender equality in the multicultural societies of these regions.

The key concepts and theories of this dynamic module are routinely illustrated with the help of country-based case studies. We aim to make the most of the regional research expertise of our colleagues at the School of Law, Gender and Media by regularly inviting them to offer case studies. This ensures that the case studies are regularly changed and updated and allow us to explore some of the topical legal issues in the SOAS mandate region.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

LO1) Demonstrate a clear understanding of the nature and practice of Asian and African Legal Systems
LO2) Demonstrate a clear understanding of the relationship between the different sources of the law and State law
LO3) Critically understand and appreciate the different sources of legal authority
LO4) Utilise relevant materials and information on international, regional and domestic systems
LO5) Synthesise and critically assess the domestic law and particular State law
LO6) Conduct independent legal research into different legal systems and their relationship to one another
LO7) Communicate complex ideas and concepts in written and oral form.


  • Lectures: 2hrs per week
  • Tutorials: 1hr per week
  • Independent study: 120hrs (over 10 weeks)

Method of assessment

  • Book/film review: 30% (1000 words)
  • Research essay: 70% (3000 words)

Scope and syllabus

  • What is law?
  • Legal systems and legal pluralism
  • Colonial encounters with legal pluralism in Asia and Africa
  • The nature and province of customary law
  • Legal pluralism and the administration of justice, Case study
  • Legal transplants: An overview
  • Early legal reform in Thailand: Transplant or transition (indicative, case studies may vary from year to year)
  • Gender equality in multicultural societies, Case study
  • Case study: Customary law and women's property rights in Kenya
  • Law, film and literature in Asia and Africa


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.