Skip to main content

LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

The LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice is designed for those who wish to pursue a career in criminal justice, policy work, or further research in the area.

Students studying

This masters programme aims to provide you with an advanced knowledge and understanding of the key concepts and theories underpinning criminal law and criminal justice and how they operate in practice. It will cover the following core areas of criminal law and criminal justice:

  • current issues and contemporary debates in criminal law and criminal justice;
  • fundamental principles of substantive and procedural criminal law;
  • criminalization;
  • international, transnational and European criminal law;
  • sexual offending;
  • global crime and insecurity;
  • the penal process; and
  • different approaches to understanding and critiquing criminal laws and criminal justice, including doctrinal, comparative, theoretical and socio-legal methods

Criminal law and criminal justice underpin many contemporary debates in today’s society, such as the legality of assisted dying, the detention and punishment of individuals under recent terrorism legislation, and the treatment and punishment of sex offenders. These are crosscutting debates that resonate across jurisdictions.

The LLM would be useful to students who intend to enter a career in criminal justice, e.g. as a legal practitioner with a focus on criminal law, or as a member of the police, prison or probation services. It also provides a career development opportunity for those already working in these fields.

The LLM can also provide a grounding for students who would like to engage in policy work related to criminal law and justice, e.g. as a member of the civil service, a non-governmental organisation or a law reform body.

Finally, the LLM would provide a strong basis for future postgraduate research, such as doctoral study, in the areas of doctrinal or theoretical criminal law, criminal justice, or social policy.

At Edinburgh Law School we have an expertise base that encompasses a diverse range of approaches to criminal law and criminal justice, including theoretical, doctrinal, socio-legal, comparative and critical approaches.

Academics teaching on the LLM degree in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice are active researchers in the field and are involved in policy development and law reform at a national, European, and international level. Their research also informs their approach to teaching, ensuring that students studying on this LLM will benefit from this world-leading research.

By joining this LLM you will become part of an extremely active community.

We run a fortnightly crime and justice seminar series during the year, at which guest speakers (some of whom feature on the reading lists of the criminal law and criminal justice courses) present their recent work.

There are also very proactive groups within the School who arrange legal theory, constitutional law and international law events.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice please don't hesitate to contact us.

This programme can be studied full-time over one year, or part-time over two years subject to visa restrictions. It offers a wide range of subjects that deal with various aspects of criminal law.

The programme consists of 180 credits, comprising taught courses worth 120 credits (60 credits per semester) and a 10,000 word dissertation worth 60 credits. Full programme details for the 2022-23 academic year are available on the University Degree Regulations and Programmes of Study website.

View 2022-23 programme and course information for the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

Courses shown below are for the 2022-23 academic year and shown for illustrative purposes. Courses for the 2023-24 academic year will be confirmed in May 2023.

With the exception of compulsory courses, depending on demand, space on specific courses may be limited.

You must take these courses:

  • Current Issues in Criminal Law (20 credits)

    This course examines current issues, debates and trends in criminal law. It introduces you to important developments in criminal law and the criminal process; to the controversies and debates surrounding these developments; and to the broader changes that they represent in the criminal justice field. The course begins by exploring questions of criminalisation: the changing scope of the criminal law, and debates over what conduct should and should not be made criminal. It then turns to examine developments in the law relating to criminal procedure and evidence; and finally to sentencing and other consequences of criminal conviction. The precise content of the course will change year on year, in response to new developments. However, at least some topics from each of these areas will be covered in any given academic year.

  • General Principles of Criminal Law (20 credits)

    This course examines the general principles of the substantive criminal law. It focuses in particular on three areas of criminal law doctrine. First, it examines criminal conduct: the kinds of action, omission and harmful results for which one may be held criminally responsible. Second, it examines criminal culpability: intentional and unintentional forms of fault, and the possibility of criminal liability without fault. And third, it examines criminal defences: justifying and excusing factors that defeat criminal liability. Throughout, the course also considers the application of these principles to problematic cases, and to particular areas of the law (such as the law of homicide).
    In examining these issues, the course does not adopt the perspective of any single jurisdiction. Rather, it adopts a more general approach: examining issues that arise across different legal systems and traditions, and across different areas of the criminal law. To shed light on these issues, the course also introduces students to insights from comparative and theoretical criminal law scholarship.

You must select between 40 and 80 credits of the following courses:

  • Criminal Justice and Penal Process (20 credits)

    This course aims to provide students with critical insight of the institutions of criminal justice and to introduce some of the relevant policy frameworks, dilemmas and debates. The jurisdictions of Scotland and England and Wales will serve as the primary model for discussions, but an international, comparative approach is considered throughout. The course also has the aim of providing opportunities for students to practice the research skills necessary to explore and critically assess academic and policy research which informs current criminal justice approaches. Students will have the opportunity to observe criminal courts in action and to carry out their own observations on criminal justice processes. By the end of this course students should be able to describe the conceptual functioning of criminal justice and penal institutions; critically analyse these institutions and explain the rationale of key developments in policy and practice.

  • Cybercrime and Cyber Security (20 credits)

    Cybercrime is becoming an increasingly important area of criminology as more social activities take place online. This course on cybercrime will provide you with an introduction to the criminological and sociological study of crime on the internet ('cybercrime'), including its commission, motivations, patterns of occurrence, detection, policing, and prevention ('cyber security').

  • EU Criminal Law (20 credits)

    The course is aimed to provide the students with the foundations of EU Criminal Law. They will engage in discussion on primary and secondary sources, as well as analysis of the centrepieces of the area. Through the involvement of practitioners, they will be exposed to different approaches and address the topics from a theoretical, and practical, points of view.

  • Global Crime and Insecurity (20 credits)

    The focus of the course is the definition, explanation and interpretation of global forms of crime, insecurity and injustice. This is tackled in a structure which examines issues of categorisation and definition first, before exploring a range of contexts in which crime and criminality may be researched, then examining particular forms of crime and finishing with questions of measurement and interpretation.
    The course focus is on policy and legal responses to international and global forms of crime, insecurity and injustice. This is tackled in a structure which examines issues a range of different policing, judicial and regulatory frameworks, with attention paid in each of these sessions to the underlying logic of the approach. Following this, various mechanisms through and contexts in which criminal justice policy might spread are examined. The course finishes with a case study of money laundering, but depending on the availability of staff, this could be replaced with any substantive crime issue which allows students the opportunity to draw together a number of the issues raised in earlier sessions.

  • International Criminal Law (40 credits)
    This course deals with one of the youngest and most dynamic branches of international law: the law that pertains to offences against the international community. The first part of the course deals with 'general' international criminal law' (history of international criminal law, its sources and institutions, and the general part of the substantial law). The second part discusses major crime categories which today constitute the substantial part of international criminal law: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The second part also contains a discussion of the future of international criminal law and alternatives to the judicial system.

  • Police and Policing (20 credits)

    The Police and Policing course is designed to equip you with a broad, yet advanced, understanding of police organisations and key contemporary issues in policing, security and police research. The first half of the course gives some focus to understanding the 'police' organisation itself (public constabularies). The second half of the course examines 'policing' more broadly defined, with some particular focus on the expanded importance of the commercial sector and on global and transnational dimensions of contemporary policing.

  • Responding to Global Crime and Insecurity (20 credits)

    The focus of the course is on legal, political and policy responses to international and transnational forms of crime, insecurity and injustice. The course is delivered in two sections focusing first on transnational forms of organised crime and secondly on atrocity crime (broadly, those defined by international criminal law). A final session looks for contrasts and connections between these two parts.

  • Sexual Offending and the Law (20 credits)

    This course will examine contemporary approaches to the law of sexual offences in comparative perspective. Topics to be covered will include the definition of rape, the age of consent, the proper extent of criminalisation of consensual sexual conduct, evidential issues in the proof of sexual offences. The closing seminars of the course will bring these issues together by examining how law reform bodies in a variety of different jurisdictions have addressed the challenges they pose.

You will have the option to take between 0 and 40 credits of courses from different subject areas offered by the Law School, depending on availability and with the express permission of the Programme Director. Depending on demand, space on courses outside the core courses may be limited.

Full programme details, including core and optional courses is available on the University Degree Regulations and Programmes of Study website.

View 2022-23 programme and course information for the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

Having successfully completed 120 credit points of courses within the LLM, you will be ready to move onto a single piece of independent and in-depth research. The 10,000 word dissertation allows you to focus on a preferred topic from within the field of criminal law and criminal justice, normally based on a subject you have studied in one of your courses during the programme.

You will be assigned an academic dissertation supervisor who will provide you with support and guidance while you prepare and write your dissertation.

The dissertation is a challenging but rewarding endeavour, asking you to demonstrate a comprehensive grasp of the relevant literature and an ability to engage critically with a range of sources, drawing on the skills and knowledge you have developed during the course of the programme. Students are encouraged to show originality and evidence of independent thinking, whether in terms of the material used, or the manner in which it is presented.

The dissertation is written in the summer months (April to August) after the taught courses are successfully completed.

Please note that due to unforeseen circumstances or lack of demand for particular courses, we may not be able to run all courses as advertised come the start of the academic year.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice please don't hesitate to contact us.

Staff teaching on the core courses of the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice for 2022-23 are experts in criminal law and criminal justice and often engage in research-led teaching.

Staff teaching on the programme will include:

Dr Andrew Cornford - Programme Director 2022-23

Dr Cornford joined Edinburgh Law School in 2012 as Lecturer in Criminal Law and his main areas of research are criminal law and legal theory. His research to date has mostly focused on criminalisation, its justification and limits.

Find out more

Professor Sharon Cowan completed an LLB (Hons) from Strathclyde University, and an MPhil in Criminology from the University of Cambridge. She undertook two years as a researcher at the London School of Economics before going on to complete a PhD at Brunel University, London. Sharon was a lecturer at the University of Warwick for three years prior to her arrival at the University of Edinburgh in 2004.

Find out more

Professor Gerry Maher QC was appointed Professor of Criminal Law in 2000. He studied law at Glasgow University until 1974 and obtained a B.Litt. at Oxford University in 1976. His first academic post was in the Department of Scots Law at Edinburgh University from 1976 to 1979. He was then lecturer and later senior lecturer in the Department of Jurisprudence at Glasgow University from 1980 to 1992. From 1992 to 2000 he held a chair as Professor of Law at Strathclyde, where he taught criminal law, commercial law, legal process, evidence, and international private law. Professor Maher was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1987 and was a practising Advocate from 1989 to 1992. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 2003. He was a full-time Commissioner at the Scottish Law Commission from 2000 to September 2008. He was the lead Commissioner on many important law reform projects, including those on diligence, age of criminal responsibility, insanity and diminished responsibility, and rape and other sexual offences. His main research interests are criminal law and criminal process, international private law, legal process, and debt and diligence.

Gerry will be on sabbatical in semester 2 of the 2022-23 academic year

Find out more

The staff teaching on this programme are subject to change for 2023-24. Staff listed as on sabbatical will not be available to teach for the duration of their sabbatical.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice please don't hesitate to contact us.

Find out what it's like to study for an LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at Edinburgh Law School from our current and former students.

Kajsa, Sweden

Kajsa, from Sweden, studied for an LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice in the 2019/20 academic year, graduating in 2020. In this video she talks about her experience of studying for an LLM at Edinburgh Law School, life in Edinburgh, completing her studies during the Covid-19 pandemic and her plans for the future.

Elien studied the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice in the 2016-17 academic year. In this video she talks about her experience of studying the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at Edinburgh Law School.

Julia studied the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice in the 2017-18 academic year. Here she talks about her experience of studying for the LLM and life as a student in Edinburgh.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice please don't hesitate to contact us.

This programme can be taken full-time over one year, or part-time over two years subject to visa restrictions.

Due to high demand, the school operates a number of selection deadlines. We will make a small number of offers to the most outstanding candidates on an ongoing basis, but hold the majority of applications until the next published selection deadline when we will offer a proportion of the places available to applicants selected through a competitive process.

We recommend that you apply as early as possible. This is particularly important for applicants who may need to allow sufficient time to take an English language test, for overseas students who may need time to satisfy necessary visa requirements and/or to apply for University accommodation.

Please note that the information provided is for entry in the 2023-24 academic year and requirements for future academic years may differ.

We require a minimum 2:1 honours degree from a UK university, or its international equivalent, in law or a social science subject. Entry to this programme is competitive. Meeting minimum requirements for consideration does not guarantee an offer of study.

Supporting your application

  • Relevant work experience is not required but may increase your chances of acceptance.
  • Relevant professional qualifications will be considered.
  • Preference will be given to those with grades above the minimum requirements due to strong competition for places on this programme.

International qualifications

You can check whether your degree qualification is equivalent to the minimum standard before applying.

Check your degree

Students from China

This degree is Band C.

Find out more about our postgraduate entry requirements for students from China

Postgraduate study in the field of law requires a thorough, complex and demanding knowledge of English, so we ask that the communication skills of all students are at the same minimum standard.

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 7.0 (at least 7.0 in the writing component and 6.5 in each other module)
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Special Home Edition): total 100 (at least 25 in writing and 23 in each other module)
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 185 (at least 185 in writing and 176 in in all other components)
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with passes in all four components
  • PTE Academic: 70 overall with at least 70 in the writing component and 62 in each other component.

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL, Trinity ISE or PTE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, that was taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country as defined by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). The UK Government's website provides a list of majority English speaking countries.

View the UKVI list of majority English speaking countries

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, or equivalent, that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries.

Approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

View approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries

Your application may not be successful if you do not currently satisfy any of these requirements; alternatively, you may be offered a place conditional on your reaching the satisfactory standard by the time you start the degree.

Find out more about the University's English language requirements

Pre-sessional English for Academic Purposes

We also accept satisfactory completion of our English for Academic Purposes programme as meeting our English language requirements. You must complete the programme no more than two years and one month before the start date of the degree you are applying to study.

Find out more about the University's Pre-sessional English for Academic Purposes

English language support

The University runs a series of programmes for English Language Education, including a pre-sessional English Language Programme intended to strengthen your English Language skills before you start your programme of study.

Find out more about English language support offered by the University

Deadlines for applicants applying to study in 2023-24 are provided in the table below.

Round Application deadline Decisions by
1 07 December 2022 23 January 2023
2 06 February 2023 22 March 2023
3 31 March 2023 05 May 2023
4 01 May 2023 12 June 2023
5 30 June 2023 25 July 2023

We monitor application numbers carefully to ensure we are able to accommodate all those who receive offers. It may therefore be necessary to close a programme earlier than the published deadline and if this is the case we will place a four-week warning notice on the relevant programme page.

Please note that the deadline for meeting the conditions of an offer is 18 August 2023.

Applications are made online via the University Application Service, EUCLID.

Please follow the instructions carefully and make sure that you have included the following documentation with your application:

  • Degree certificates showing award of degree
  • Previous academic transcripts for all past degree programmes (please upload the full transcript showing results from all years of study)
  • A reference in support of your application. The reference should be academic and dated no earlier than one year from the start of study on the LLM programme
  • Evidence of English language proficiency, if required

If you are currently studying for your degree or you are not in a possession of an English test result you may still apply to the programme. Please note that it is your responsibility to submit the necessary documents.

You will also be required to submit a personal statement of about 500 words, outlining your academic history, relevant experience and motivations for wanting to study the programme to which you are applying.

View full detailed application guidance

Students at this University must not undertake any other concurrent credit bearing studies in this (or in any other) institution, unless the College has granted permission. The College must be satisfied that any additional credit-bearing studies will not restrict the student’s ability to complete their existing programme of study. Students will not be permitted to undertake concurrent degree programmes in any circumstances.

If you are studying at this or another institution just prior to the start of your postgraduate studies you must have finished these studies before the start of the programme to which you have an offer.

After your application has been submitted you will be able to track its progress through the University's applicant hub.

Application processing times will vary, however the admissions team will endeavour to process your application within four to six weeks of submission. Please note that missing documentation will delay the application process.

You will be informed as soon as possible of the decision taken. Three outcomes are possible:

  • You may be offered a place unconditionally
  • You may be offered a conditional place, which means that you must fulfil certain conditions that will be specified in the offer letter. Where a conditional offer is made, it is your responsibility to inform the College Postgraduate Office when you have fulfilled the requirements set out. 
    Please note that the deadline for meeting the conditions of an offer is 18 August 2023.
  • Your application may be unsuccessful. If your application has not been successful, you can request feedback from us or refer to our guidance for unsuccessful applicants, which explains some of the common reasons we why we reach this decision.
    View the University's guidance for unsuccessful applicants

Deferring your offer

We do not normally offer deferrals, however, we may be able to make a very limited number of offers for deferred entry in exceptional circumstances.

View full guidance on deferral requests

The University’s terms and conditions form part of your contract with the University, and you should read them, and our data protection policy, carefully before applying.

University of Edinburgh admissions terms and conditions

Apply for September 2023 entry

Contact us

If you have any questions about applying to the LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice please don't hesitate to contact us.