LAWPUBL 736 : Human Rights Litigation


2024 Semester One (1243) (30 POINTS)

Course Prescription

Study of international conventions and customary international law on human rights, including: free speech, exercise of religion, privacy and nondiscrimination, enforcement mechanisms, human rights theories in international law, third generation human rights including rights to development and a functioning environment, and the recognition of these in international law. Involves individual research resulting in a substantial individual research essay.

Course Overview

The course focuses on human rights and the way in which human rights claims are litigated and resolved by courts in New Zealand, which has an ordinary statute bill of rights, and in countries with constitutional bills of rights such as Canada and the United States.
We will address the nature of the judicial function – the role played by courts in the constitutional order. We will give in-depth consideration to how cases are argued, discussing arguments submitted in actual cases and considering various argument strategies, including the role played by intervening parties.

We will also consider how courts go about the task of adjudicating human rights documents. We will review the leading interpretation theories, including originalism, purposive interpretation, and living constitutionalism, and the role of precedent, illustrating each with a wide range of examples. We will also consider the relevance of the Treaty of Waitangi, tikanga Māori, and the influence of international law.

As important as interpretation is the concept of proportionality – how courts go about the task of determining whether particular limits on rights are justified. We will consider the work of leading international legal theorists, along with a wide variety of examples for international caselaw. We will address the problems with proportionality, including the difficulty presented by the incommensurability of the values that proportionality analysis requires to be “balanced”.

We will not limit ourselves to the formal litigation paradigm. We will also consider the way in which legislators may address human rights in the course of legislating. How does Parliament design rights-consistent legislation? What are its obligations in this regard?
We will address a number of contemporary issues in human rights law, both in New Zealand and internationally, including the right to vote, hate speech, assisted suicide, abortion, affirmative action, and more. Finally, we will consider the future of human rights and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act in particular.

Course Requirements

No pre-requisites or restrictions

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: People and Place
Capability 3: Knowledge and Practice
Capability 4: Critical Thinking
Capability 5: Solution Seeking
Capability 6: Communication
Capability 8: Ethics and Professionalism
Graduate Profile: Master of Laws

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Appreciate the nature of the judicial role in protecting human rights law in New Zealand as well as other common law jurisdictions. (Capability 1.2 and 3.1)
  2. Appreciate when it is appropriate to pursue litigation rather than legislative reform. (Capability 3.1, 4.1 and 5.1)
  3. Appreciate the various interpretation theories employed by courts in interpreting human rights guarantees. (Capability 3.1 and 4.1)
  4. Critically assess the concept of proportionality in determining whether limits on human rights are justified. (Capability 3.1 and 4.1)
  5. Assemble evidence and make effective written and oral arguments in human rights litigation, marshalling comparative judicial authority and academic legal theory where appropriate. (Capability 4.1, 5.1, 6.1 and 8.1)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Class participation 10% Individual Coursework
Research paper on an approved topic 90% Individual Coursework
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5
Class participation
Research paper on an approved topic

Workload Expectations

This is an intensive 30-point course taught over five working days. There will be around 40 hours of lectures/seminars in this course. As a general guide you should expect a workload of four hours outside of the classroom for each hour spent in class. The guideline for the total workload for this course is 300 hours. 

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

Attendance is expected over the five day intensive and the class proceeds with student presentations and discussions in a seminar style. The classes will include breakout discussions in groups (one or two each day). Because the course is designed to be participatory, it depends upon students being personally present and contributing. The discussions will often go in interesting directions precisely because of the contributions of the class and we encourage everyone to participate with thoughtful questions and comments. 

The normal expectation is that students will select their research topic during the course, based on particular aspects of the course that they find especially interesting and wish to pursue.

The classes will not be available as recordings. The course will not include live online events.

Learning Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.

Student Feedback

At the end of every semester students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback and respond with summaries and actions.

Your feedback helps teachers to improve the course and its delivery for future students.

Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the department and faculty staff-student consultative committees.

This course is being delivered for the first time. 

Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed for potential plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct, using computerised detection mechanisms.

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course director, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a Student Academic and Support Adviser as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course students may be asked to submit coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.