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LLM in Human Rights

The LLM in Human Rights is designed to provide you with a theoretical and practical understanding of international human rights law in its broader political context, with a particular emphasis on human rights in times of transition, including conflict situations or other political and societal movements.

Dr Elisenda Casanas Adam and Dr Kasey McCall-Smith talk about the benefits of studying for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

You will have the opportunity to not only explore the global role of human rights and the international and domestic machinery that promotes and enforces rights, but also how academic debates connect to the practice of human rights.

The programme has a flexible structure, including some interdisciplinary options, that enables you to tailor your curriculum to best suit your individual interests and career plans, drawing from a choice of specialised courses from the Law School and the School of Social and Political Science.

Edinburgh Law School is an ideal place to study human rights. With a history at the centre of the Scottish Enlightenment, we offer a unique academic space for the learning and research of human rights, which includes the University's Global Academies in the areas of Justice, Health, Development, Food and Environment and Society. Together, the Global Academies address crucial global challenges spanning the ambit of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights and each year offer abundant opportunities for students to explore the links between human rights and the fast-paced world around them. The School is also uniquely placed to maximise its relationships with the City of Edinburgh’s many and varied human rights and peace initiatives.

Despite what many in the press may lead the public to believe, human rights and the legal and political machinery that exist to promote and protect those rights are here to stay. Human rights language is embedded across international, regional and national legal frameworks and the LLM is designed to teach you how to use this language for the improvement of the world around you. Human rights increasingly permeates other legal fields and disciplines. Understanding the basis of these rights will inform you as to how use your education to contribute to a more sustainable social and environmental future.

Because human rights are prevalent across such a broad range of disciplines, graduates of our programme have the opportunity to find work across an unlimited field. In addition to specialising in human rights law as practitioners, past students have gone on to work for human rights courts, the diplomatic service, as policy analysts and researchers in the government or in civil society and advocacy organisations, to name but a few of the career paths that have been followed after completing the LLM in Human Rights.

As a leading research institution, those teaching on the human rights programme make a point of bringing their research insights into the classroom.

Whether exploring transitional justice negotiations, deliberating the role of human rights in constitution building, addressing fair trial issues in Guantánamo, teasing out the role of women in security strategies or understanding how national governments prioritise rights through law and policy, academic staff are eager to engage students in their projects. This not only provides real, practical insight into the theory of human rights, but animates the debates about human rights in our seminars.

Additionally, each week you will have the opportunity to attend multiple extracurricular events, adding a further layer of depth to the basic course offerings.

Edinburgh plays host to a wide-ranging schedule of academic and research events throughout the year. You will be able to subscribe to mailing lists in line with your preferences. Rarely does a day pass where there are no extra-curricular events taking place.

In addition to Edinburgh academics often speaking at research related seminars, academic visitors abound in Edinburgh. Through the variety of research centres, particularly the Edinburgh Centre for International and Global Law and the Global Justice Academy, students are able to tailor an extracurricular calendar that meets all lines of theoretical, legal and interdisciplinary approaches to human rights. Furthermore, across the year we invite experts into the classroom to cover specific human rights issues in depth.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the LLM in Human Rights please don't hesitate to contact us.

This programme can be taken full-time over one year and gives you the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects across human rights, law, crime and criminal justice, as well as options from other disciplines. This enables you to tailor the programme to meet your specific interests.

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 are available on the University Degree Regulations and Programmes of Study website.

View full programme information for the LLM in Human Rights

Courses shown below are scheduled to run in the 2019/20 academic year and listed for illustrative purposes. Depending on demand, space on courses outside the compulsory courses may be limited.

You must take these courses:

  • International Human Rights Law (20 credits)

    This course will focus on the international law of human Rights, primarily through looking at the U.N. system including Charter and Treaty bodies as well as looking at the links between International human rights law and other related fields such as International Humanitarian law and International Criminal law.

  • Advanced Issues in Human Rights (20 credits)

    The objective of the course is to enable students, primarily through research, presentation, discussion and writing, to acquire a thorough knowledge of the advanced theory and law of human rights protection at the international level and the capacity to critically analyse how the human rights system works in practice. It builds upon the foundations delivered in International Human Rights Law.

You can select between 60 and 80 credits of the following courses:

  • Fundamental Issues in International Law (40 credits, full-year course)

    This is a course aimed at introducing students to fundamental debates about the nature of international law and the international legal order today, and its relationship to states, markets, conflict, justice and human rights. The course is historical, conceptual, theoretical and legal. It introduces students to key ideas and arguments about where the international legal order is coming from and where it is going, what its building blocks are, and how those components are changing. A theme uniting the course is the extent to which the international legal order is shifting from a classical jus inter gentes to something else: a law of global governance, a global administrative law, a law of rights and regulation, or some combination.

  • 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.

  • European Labour Law (20 credits)

    The course is designed to introduce you to EU Social Policy, EU Labour Law, and the overall importance of European Social Policy to the European Programme. This will include an overview of a range of topics which comprise the subject of European Labour Law, including European equal treatment law, European equal pay law, family-friendly policies, the protection of part-time and fixed-term employees, the regulation of working time, and the safeguards for employees on the restructuring of an undertaking. This course is particularly suitable if you are intending to practice employment law as a practicing lawyer, work as a human resources professional, or work in-house as a practicing lawyer for a company.

  • Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (20 credits)

    This course will examine the role of human rights in intra-state conflict and in peace processes. In particular it will examine how peace processes and agreements deal with power-sharing arrangements, transitional justice mechanisms, gender equality, and return of refugees. The course will examine the moral, political and practical dilemmas in dealing with these issues, and consider the extent to which human rights law provides useful guidance and requirements, or hinders conflict resolution efforts. The course will also touch on the overlapping requirements of international humanitarian law and international criminal law.

  • Human Rights Law in Europe (20 credits)

    The course will include an introduction to European human rights law, a thorough grounding in the primary institutions and main instruments dealing with the protection of Human rights in Europe, with a specific emphasis on the European Convention of Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. There will also be some consideration of themes raised by the convention and the Court, other human rights instruments of the council of Europe as well as human rights protection in the European Union.

  • International and European Media Law (20 credits)

    This course will examine the impact of International and European law on, firstly, the structure of media markets and, secondly, the content of media services. The course will start with a discussion of the nature of the media, the media 'value chain', and the relationship between media freedom, freedom of expression and other human rights. It will examine the various international organisations competent in the media field and the regulatory strategies that are being adopted to deal with media convergence and globalisation. In relation to structural matters, consideration will be given to consolidation of media ownership and state funding of the media, in particular public service broadcasting. In relation to content controls, the course will examine attempts to create a more equitable flow of media content and concerns over 'media imperialism', the regulatory problems posed by pornography and hate speech and the balance to be struck between freedom of the media and privacy.

  • 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).

  • Human Rights Clinic (20 credits)

    The objective of the course is to enable students, primarily through research, discussion, writing and presentation in a practical setting, to acquire a thorough knowledge of advanced human rights protection at the national and international level. Through a strong link to professional human rights practice it will develop students' capacity to critically analyse how the human rights system works and the demands that it places upon the various actors, including civil society, government, legislatures and stakeholders. It builds upon the foundations delivered in International Human Rights Law.

You can select between 0 and 20 credits of the following courses:

  • Mental Health and Crime (20 credits)

    The aim of this course is to examine the relationship between mental health and crime and explore issues relating to the appropriate treatment of mentally disordered offenders in the criminal justice system. Different forms of mental disorder will be analysed (including psychotic illnesses, personality disorders and the mental health problems associated with substance misuse) and their links to crime evaluated.
    Key objectives are also: to trace the history and development of mental health law; to explore the nature of criminal justice and other disposals for mentally disordered offenders (comparing Scotland with England/Wales); and to assess the nature and limits of offender profiling.
    A visit will be arranged to a medium secure unit located in Edinburgh, where students will meet staff and patients and gain an insight into clinical practice and the day-to-day running of a medium secure institution. The course will conclude with a mock trial in which students will act as prosecution, defence agents and jury and staff as judge, defender and expert witnesses.

  • International Criminal Law (20 credits)

    This course focuses on the study of selected foundational aspects of international and transnational criminal law and international co-operation in the administration of justice.

  • Inter-state Conflict and Humanitarian Law (20 credits)

    The course will comprise the study of conflict in international law. It will be concerned with the law relating to the unilateral resort to armed force by states. The law relating to self-defence will be studied. There will also be a focus on humanitarian law – including the law relating to entitlement to combatant status, the law regulating the conduct of hostilities between opposing forces and the law on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. In addition, there will be a study of post-conflict issues.
    The aim of the course is to equip students with a critical understanding of the fundamental concepts of international law as it relates to conflict.

  • Brexit: Withdrawal from the European Union (20 credits)

    The UK's decision to leave the European Union raises a myriad of legal questions. These include the process of leaving; the legacy of membership, in particular acquired rights and continued relevance of EU law in 'old' cases; the new relationship: future trade relations, but also cooperation in security and foreign affairs matters and criminal law; the position of Scotland in Europe: special deal or no deal or independence?; the constitutional challenges within the UK, including parliamentary participation and the Great Repeal Bill; and the wider implications of Brexit for cooperation in Europe, in particular for human rights.

  • Advanced Comparative Constitutional Law (20 credits)

    This 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. By the end of the course, you should have gained 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.

  • Risk and Regulation: Theories and Practices (20 credits)

    This course provides a detailed exploration of risk and its regulation, examining how regulatory frameworks are shaped and/or respond to new and emerging human activities, many of which rely on or prompt new modes of action, new technologies, new relationships, and, importantly, new risks.
    Focusing on biomedical case studies in the second half of the course, it explores different regulatory theories, instruments and institutions - legal and non-legal, domestic, regional and international - that govern and shape individual and organisational conduct. Specifically, following detailed investigation of the concept of risk and regulatory theories and practices, the course explores regulatory frameworks in biomedicine (health research and medicinal products and devices), and how they interact with other regulatory frameworks (e.g. EU governance, public health, data protection), concluding with a session on alternative (non-risk-based) approaches to regulation. You will then have an opportunity to present a topic in risk and regulation in the last three sessions of the course.

You may also be able to study courses offered by other Schools in the University of Edinburgh. These may include:

  • Gender and Development (20 credits)
  • Cultures of Human Rights and Humanitarianism (20 credits)
  • Childhood and Children's Rights (20 credits)
  • Transitional Justice in Context (20 credits)
  • Human Rights, Global Politics and International Law (20 credits)
  • Gender and Sexuality in Global Politics (20 credits)
  • Conflict and Peace in Africa (20 credits)
  • War and Morality (20 credits)
  • Islam, Law and Human Rights (20 credits)

Full programme details are available on the University Degree Regulations and Programmes of Study website.

View full programme information for the LLM in Human Rights


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 human rights, 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.

As an alternative to the conventional dissertation, some students may have the chance to apply to complete a project-based report with an NGO, government department, political party, or other relevant business or organisation during the spring and summer.

You will undertake a research project on a human rights topic linked to the activities of your respective host. The research projects will need to be officially approved by the programme director, and you will have a relevant member of staff as a contact, in parallel with the arrangement for dissertation supervision.

Project opportunities will be made available on a competitive basis, with applications made at the start of semester two.

Placements will be competitive and candidates will be shortlisted on the basis of their marks for the previous semester, with employers making the final decision based on the student's personal statement.

You may also set up projects directly, subject to a formal process of approval by the programme conveners.

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 Human Rights please don't hesitate to contact us.

Staff teaching on the core courses for the LLM in Human Rights for 2019/20 are experts in their field and are actively involved in cutting-edge research in various areas of human rights, international and public law.

Dr McCall-Smith - Programme Director 2019/20

Dr McCall-Smith is a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights. She joined the Law School on a permanent basis in 2014 having contributed to a number of international law and human rights law courses since 2008. She is a US qualified lawyer and holds a BA (1998) and Juris Doctor (2001) from the University of Arkansas School of Law. 

She is an active researcher in international human rights law and interested in the role of the UN human rights treaty bodies as generators of law. She is also currently exploring the increasingly blurred distinction between public and private international law in terms of human rights protection. Alongside her role as an academic, Dr McCall-Smith acts as a consultant on projects across a range of issues relating to human rights.

She serves on the Global Justice Academy steering committee and as its representative to the Association of Human Rights Institutes (AHRI). 

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Dr Asanga Welikala is a Lecturer in Public Law at Edinburgh Law School, The University of Edinburgh, and the Acting Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law. He is also a Research Associate of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, and Research Fellow of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Sri Lanka. Asanga's research interests lie in comparative constitutional law, applied constitutional theory, and Commonwealth constitutional history.

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Christine Bell is Professor of Constitutional Law and Assistant Principal (Global Justice).  She is a co-director of the Global Justice Academy and a member of the British Academy.  She read law at Selwyn College, Cambridge, (1988) and gained an LL.M in Law from Harvard Law School (1990), supported by a Harkness Fellowship. In 1990 she qualified as a Barrister at law. She subsequently qualified as an Attorney-at-law in New York, practicing for a period at Debevoise & Plimpton, NY. From 1997-9 she was Director of the Centre for International and Comparative Human Rights Law, Queen's University of Belfast, and from 2000-2011, she was Professor of Public International Law, and a founder and Director of the Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster.

She has been active in non-governmental organisations, and was chairperson of Belfast-based Human Rights organisation, the Committee on the Administration of Justice from 1995-7, and a founder member of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission established under the terms of the Belfast Agreement. In 1999 she was a member of the European Commission’s Committee of Experts on Fundamental Rights.

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Nehal Bhuta joined Edinburgh Law School in 2018 from the European University Institute where he was Professor of Public International Law. His research interests include: International law, human rights, international humanitarian law, history and theory of international law, indicators in global governance, histories of rights, political theory, theory of the state, international criminal law.

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Elisenda Casanas Adam is a Lecturer in Public Law and Human Rights and a member of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law. Her main research interests lie in the comparative analysis of public law, focusing on the legal accommodation of national identity, the courts and the judiciary, devolution, judicial review and human rights. She has a special interest in the public law of Scotland and the United Kingdom, and of Catalonia and Spain.

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Paul Behrens joined the faculty in 2012. His principal research interests are international criminal law, diplomatic law, international humanitarian law and comparative constitutional law. He is an Associate of the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Leicester University and member of the Surrey International Law Centre. Together with the director of the Stanley Burton Centre, he is the founder of an interdisciplinary research initiative which has hosted conferences on selected topics in the field of genocide studies.

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Paolo Cavaliere joined the Law School from September 2014 as a lecturer in Digital Media and IT Law. His main interests in research include the discipline of pluralism and diversity in the media, e-democracy and the relationship between new media and politics, regulation of audiovisual industries and digital media.

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Michelle Burgis-Kasthala joined the Law School in September 2013. Her teaching focusses on public international law and international human rights law. Her research centres on the operation and contestation over international law across the Arab World.

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Leandro’s main research interests lie in EU Constitutional Law, EU Fundamental Rights Law, the law and policy of the EU Area of Freedom Security and Justice. He teaches and is courses organiser of courses in EU Law (Hons), EU Constitutional Law (LLM) and EU Fundamental Rights Law (LLM).

Leandro’s publications focus on the interaction amongst different areas of law and policy, such as crime, migration, and human rights. His first monograph analyses the legislative and judicial approach of the EU in the fields of substantive and procedural criminal law, immigration, citizenship and free movement.

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The staff teaching on this programme are subject to change for 2020/21. Staff listed as on sabbatical will not be available to teach for the duration of their sabbatical.

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If you have any questions about the LLM in Human Rights please don't hesitate to contact us.

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

Tanya, South Africa

Tanya, a student from South Africa studying the LLM in Human Rights in the 2019/20 academic year at Edinburgh Law School talks about her experiences of studying on the LLM.

Georgia, a student from Scotland, talks about her experience of studying the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the LLM in Human Rights please don't hesitate to contact us.

We recommend that you apply as early as possible; this is particularly important for students holding conditional offers (for example, you may need to allow sufficient time to take an English language test) and for overseas students who may need time to satisfy necessary visa requirements (for further, country-specific information, please consult the website of the University's Edinburgh Global) and/or to apply for University accommodation.

Apply now for September 2020 entry

Entry requirements

We require a minimum 2:1 honours degree from a UK university, or its international equivalent, in law. We will also consider candidates with a degree in a non-law subject if they can demonstrate advanced academic study in international relations and/or relevant professional or voluntary work. Entry to this programme is competitive. Meeting minimum requirements for consideration does not guarantee an offer of study.

If you have a non-UK degree, please check whether your degree qualification is equivalent to the minimum standard before applying.

Check your degree

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.

Students whose first language is not English must therefore show evidence of one of the following qualifications below:

  • IELTS: total 7.0 (at least 6.5 in each module).
  • TOEFL-iBT: total 100 (at least 23 in each module).
  • PTE(A): total 67 (at least 61 in each of the Communicative Skills sections).
  • CAE and CPE: total 185 (at least 176 in each module).
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III (with a pass in all four components).

Your English language certificate must be no more than two years old at the beginning of your degree programme.

We also accept an undergraduate or masters 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.

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.

Find out more about the University's English language requirements

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.

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

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.

Deadlines for applicants applying to study the LLM in Human Rights in 2020/21 are provided in the table below.

Round Application deadline Decisions by
1 15 November 2019 20 December 2019
2 31 December 2019 25 February 2020
3 21 February 2020 03 April 2020
4 09 April 2020 21 May 2020
5 15 May 2020 26 June 2020
6 30 June 2020 28 July 2020

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 15 August 2020.

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 or 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.

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.
  • 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

Please note that if you receive an offer of a place to study the LLM in Human Rights and later decide that you do not want to accept your place, we do not allow deferrals. In this case you would have to reapply for the following academic year.

You can find full and detailed application guidance on the University's website.

Find out more about applying to the University of Edinburgh

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 now for September 2020 entry

Contact us

If you have any questions about applying to the LLM in Human Rights please don't hesitate to contact us.