UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

Here are the instructions you need to follow in completing the third and final assessed task related to this module. Please read them carefully, and raise any queries you may have with your campus Module Tutor for LEX4701, or at Hendon with either Lughaidh or me. If your query leads to useful clarification we’ll post a response on the site for everyone’s benefit, as we’ve done previously.

1. This task is concerned with how you prepare and write a ‘literature review’ in legal studies, of a kind suitable for incorporation into LLM essays and your LLM dissertation. The skills required bring together work we’ve done under several different headings already:


    searching for, browsing, and seeing the significance of materials including legal authorities and research articles to be found in the library and online (work based on our session in the library with Alan Wheeler)

    summarising the essential legal elements of reported cases and other materials including: highlighting what is significant, leaving out what is unnecessary or extraneous; and joining up such mini-summaries coherently with material that precedes them and comes next in an essay (work we did on case notes)

    providing correct and sufficient references for material you mention (work we did on the OSCOLA referencing system, which is the system you should follow in this coursework)

2. What you have to do is to write a short literature review, building on the template and guidance we provide below. This piece of work should take the form of a Word document between 1,500 and 2,000 words in length, inclusive of footnotes but exclusive of bibliography/references. It should be submitted, by all students on each campus, via Turnitin before 16:00 (UK time) on or before Thursday 9 January 2020. The document will be checked for similarity to published sources following the procedures discussed in class. You will be given both specific and general feedback plus a grade online; and the grade awarded will count for 50% of your overall module grade for LEX4701.

3. This task is primarily concerned with the scope, structure, coherence and accurate presentation of literature reviews in legal studies – whatever topic they are about. But you can only review a relevant body of legal materials once you’ve decided what the literature is relevant to. So your literature review must be about a given topic. You’re free to choose your topic (which must be explicitly reflected in the title of the piece of work you submit) under either of the following three headings:

3.1 You can write a literature review that could be used to support investigation of any topic you’ve addressed in an LLM module this term (so long as you do not repeat material you’ve used in any piece of submitted assessed work). You must ensure that the topic you’re providing the literature review of is clearly stated in the title of the piece of work you submit.


3.2 You can write a literature review that supports early investigation of a topic you wish to research as your LLM dissertation. This kind of literature review would serve as a sort of ‘scoping exercise’. Again, however, you must ensure that you state the topic you’re providing a literature review of in the title of the piece of work you submit.


3.3 A specific topic we give you as an example (from the LLM Module, ‘Minority Rights & Indigenous Peoples in International Law’): "The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2006)"

4. Here are some key elements you should keep in mind in writing your literature review. There are of course other ways of writing a literature review, and where a piece of work is submitted that goes beyond the essential elements we outline below that may be reflected in a higher grade. But the guidance that follows should ensure you are able to incorporate legal authorities and scholarship appropriately into essays assessed throughout your LLM programme, and achieving that is our aim.

4.1 In legal studies, you need to keep in mind both the distinction and also the connection between professional sources and academic literature. These two kinds of material have different statuses and play different roles. But they work closely together in legal-academic writing. This is one consideration – but not the only one – that makes writing a ‘literature review’ in the academic study of law different from writing a ‘literature review’ in social science or natural sciences. (In some of those other fields, a literature review is a highly standardised, separate section in a written report, essay or thesis.)

4.2 In practical terms, a literature review embedded in a law essay must do the following:

  • it should refer to the main legal sources (hence why the literature review stage of this module follows on from work we did on case notes , case commentary and case summary);
  • it should mention, where appropriate, other kinds of institutional and public document (such as policy or committee reports, including preparatory documents discussing law reform or leading towards legislation);
  • it should offer a descriptive overview of relevant academic books and journal articles (How many? This will vary but is likely to be more than 2-3 but not so many that you don’t have space to say anything about each – the literature review is not just a list.)

4.3 Typically, in a law essay or dissertation the literature review is not titled as such. It doesn’t usually stand alone as an essay section, as it would in a sociology or natural sciences essay. Rather, a law literature review is likely to be woven into one of several different types of material within the essay: as (i) part of the introduction and description of context; or (ii) within a section dealing with defining the problem to be addressed, etc. For instructional purposes only, we’ve separated out the literature review as a task, in order to look more closely at its purpose and main features.

4.4 A literature review does serve a purpose and contributes to the overall argument. It is not just a list or summary. It has to show internal development if it is to achieve that purpose. The overarching aim is to situate a project that an author is developing in his or her essay or dissertation in the larger context of existing legal scholarship.

4.5 To this end, a ‘review of the literature’ is needed as part of the definition of a topical research issue/question. That’s why you’re not asked in this task to write a freestanding ‘literature review’ of a given topic: simply ‘the death penalty’, ‘breach of confidence’, ‘exemplary damages’, ‘Brexit’, or ‘vertical and horizontal effect’. Each of these would require a neutral report or reference-material approach, or a whole textbook (or many textbooks). By contrast, as you can see from guidelines above, you’re being asked to write a literature review that would support an essay topic containing an interpretive, critical or evaluative dimension: i.e. as a contribution to an essay in which you develop an argument or point of view based in part on the account you offer of relevant, available materials and evidence.

4.6 Your literature review is likely to begin with a short general statement of how the issue/question you’re writing about is commonly perceived or approached: this is your ‘way in’. It’s an opportunity to identify some unresolved dimension or aspect that makes your chosen topic worth writing about. This introductory overview is usually placed in a (necessarily simplified) historical context. But it must be historicised – a literature review is the published story of how people have engaged with, investigated, and constantly redefined a topic.

4.7 The main body of the literature review introduces key sources and works, briefly highlighting not only their scope and content but also their type (are they legally authoritative materials, academic reference works, partisan or even polemical arguments?). Where significant, you should indicate how particular documents or publications have been received by professionals, scholars and/or the wider public, including what influence they may have had (distinguishing for instance between a widely acknowledged study in the field and a relatively unknown article you may have discovered).

4.8 During this phase of the literature review you should avoid referring to Wikipedia, general dictionaries, textbook introductions, etc. These will seriously undermine the credibility (and grade) of your work. A literature review is about adding value through the editorial role you play in bringing materials together and showing the relationship between them. If all you do is summarise Wikipedia then a reader might as well go there instead, bypassing the unnecessary intermediary – i.e. you.

4.9 Your contextualising account of the history of a topic – which might be quite brief – develops gradually into a second phase. In this second phase you pick out seemingly important contemporary landmarks in unfolding present debates or arguments, illustrating the range of contemporary understandings and identifying controversies and gaps.

4.10 This second phase of the literature review sets up in turn an essential final stage: what you, as the author, take to be one or more persistent, contemporary questions about the topic. In an actual essay, that question or those questions are what you then go on to investigate.

4.11 So, the literature review comes back at the end to where it began. You conclude with an aspect of (and an angle on) a topic that seems significant and is worth investigating.

4.12 But you have covered a lot in between. You’ve created a kind of map of the legal scholarly terrain: where the issue comes from, how it has been treated, what different views of it are common, what material already exists that can help illuminate difficulties, and the fact that there are still questions worth investigating – to which you yourself may be able to contribute.

5. When we mark your literature review, what qualities will we be looking for? For the purpose of this module, we’re looking for you to demonstrate several abilities:

5.1 Ability to construct an overview which shows historical awareness, disentangles strands and topics in the development of how a topic has been treated, can move between general overview and attention to particular issues or themes, and can conclude in a way that sets up the prospect of further analysis (in an essay you might hypothetically then write yourself). Together these abilities will allow you to go on and actually write pieces of work about law in future on different subjects; such skills serve an essay-priming or springboard function.

5.2 Ability to refer to and discuss legal authorities and related professional source materials in a wider context of academic commentary and discussion, backed up by accurate reference to academic journal articles, books and other relevant sources.

5.3 Ability to weave references to relevant statutes and cases into more general commentary on or analysis of public reports and/or law monographs or journal articles

5.4 Ability to present such material concisely and accurately, referenced correctly using OSCOLA (hence why we also did the OSCOLA work first).

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6. Training in writing this kind of literature review in a ‘legal research skills’ class – separate from more specialised piece of work on one substantive area of law – allows us to look at and comment on your work on this occasion with slightly less focus on whether the literature review is comprehensive or expert in its analysis of the particular material you are dealing with.

6.1 Quality in those aspects will of course be essential when you’re writing real rather than practice literature reviews. And we’ll certainly be taking account of how detailed and credible your review of legal material is. But here we’ll be as concerned with how far your literature review is suitably constructed, and whether it follows a development that takes us from general introduction, through sign-posted tour of available material, to a point that could serve as the beginning of an extended piece of research you’re writing.

We’ve adopted this task as the end-point of the legal research skills module because it represents a moment when you should find yourself more confident and able to incorporate critical analysis of legal sources and academic literature into an essay composed in your own words, based on specialised knowledge you’ve been developing in your other LLM modules. If the module has achieved that, you’re ready to move to the next stage of the programme.

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