Before starting your studies at Oxford it is useful for you to do some preparatory and background reading. This is helpful in three ways. First, it provides a basis for coursework and will make your first couple of weeks easier. Secondly, there is much about the UK legal system (and English law) that we will presume you already know. Finally, it will introduce you to some of the important debates in the law.

We will explain the nature of the course, how you should tackle it and what your tutors will expect of you in the course of your first week at St. John’s (known as ‘0th week’, as it precedes the formal first week of term). 

Preparing for courses

In the first two terms here you will be studying three subjects – Constitutional Law (in the first term, ‘Michaelmas Term’); Criminal Law (in the second term, ‘Hilary Term’); and ‘A Roman Introduction to Private Law’ (spread across the two terms).  There will also be lectures (given at the Law Faculty) in all three subjects in the course of both terms. Just after the end of Hilary Term (i.e. mid-March 2023) you will sit an online open-book examination in each subject (these exams are called Law Moderations or ‘Mods’).   Your tutors in these subjects will explain the nature of these examinations in the course of your tuition.


You should know something about the English legal system (and how it relates to United Kingdom law) before starting your main work.

We suggest you buy (and read) this general introduction: M. Partington, Introduction to the English Legal System (15th edn, 2021 Oxford University Press), chapters 1–6 and 8.  We would also like you to read Tom Bingham (the late Lord Bingham), The Rule of Law (2010) chapters 1–2, 5–7 and 12.  There is no need to take notes from either.

If you want to, you can also have a look at Nicholas McBridge, Letters to a Law Student: A guide to studying law at university.

Constitutional Law

  • M. Loughlin, The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2013).  This is a short book, as the name suggests, but very usefully outlines the history and structure of the British constitution: it warrants close reading.
  • It is also important that you acquaint yourself with the framework of UK government and some of the current constitutional issues.  An easy way to do this is by way of newspapers or by following the UK Constitutional Law blog at

A Roman introduction to private law

  • B. Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law (Oxford University Press, 1976) is the main textbook that you will use and it would be useful for you to read the chapters on the sources of law, property law and obligations so as to gain a general sense of your studies.  Do not at this stage take notes.

Criminal law

In order to familiarise yourself with some of the issues you will encounter at the beginning of the course, please read chapters 1, 2 and 3. Do not worry if you find some of the concepts complex, as we will be examining them in detail once you get to Oxford.

Getting up-to-date textbooks

As law is in a constant state of evolution it is important to get the most recent editions of textbooks. While out of date textbooks might seem very cheap they will be of very little use to you. The editions given of textbooks in this list are the most up to date as of September 9, 2022 but you should always check whether there is a newer edition before buying.

A final point.  Law textbooks are quite expensive, so we think it worth mentioning that the College has an Academic Grant Scheme for undergraduate students as regards the purchase of books recommended by tutors for course-work.   Under this scheme, the student can claim up to a total claim of approximately £350 in any one academic year.  So, if you buy yourself any of the books on this list, make sure that you keep the receipts.

Happy reading!  We look forward to seeing you in October, when there will be plenty of opportunities for you to ask questions and to explore these issues with your tutors.  Let us add that one of the most important roles of your tutors in this early part of your course will be to give you guidance as to how to read and understand the materials (especially the cases and statutes which you will read once you arrive) – so don’t worry if at times you find them difficult and even rather strange to start with!   Learning how to think like an English lawyer forms a central part of the course and often takes quite a while.

Professor Richard Ekins

Mr Jordan English

Professor Simon Whittaker

A case and questions to consider:

Re A (conjoined twins) [2001] 2 WLR 480 – full text at 

Read the case in full. Here are some questions to think about:

  1. What are the facts? 
  2. What did the parents want to do and why?
  3. What did the doctors want to do and why?
  4. What was the key legal issue that the judges had to decide?
  5. Think about argument for and against the claim “It is right to take a life to save a life.” Is that what happened in this case? 
  6. How do we define ‘life’? Is there a difference between ‘a right to life’ and ‘a right to be alive’?
  7. What was decided in the end?


Law faculty podcast

Public talks & lectures

Lectures on Coursera: Focus on talks about English law, as American and other legal systems are very different from the law that you will be learning in your undergraduate studies at Oxford.

TED talks: There is a range of interesting talks about justice, philosophy of law, and a variety of subject-matters from particular areas of law – something for everyone. Try to listen in and think about the discussion but do not try to memorise anything. Have fun.

Oxford Union on YouTube: Oxford Union is an institution of great reputation, and you will be able to find some of the most interesting lectures here. Some of them are about law directly, but most of them are about general knowledge. You can also watch several popular debates and pick up a trick or two about the art of argument and persuasion

Your tutors

Broader community of law fellows and lecturers attached to St John’s College

Study skills for incoming undergraduates

As an Oxford student, you have many great opportunities ahead, but studying here can also be very challenging. To help you prepare for this, we have put together some resources that will help you develop your study skills before you start at Oxford, no matter your subject.

Starting at Oxford

Starting a course at Oxford can be very daunting, but there are many resources out there to help you succeed! Here are some useful guides from across the University that you might want to check out:

  • Study skills and training: Here you can find advice on academic good practice including avoiding plagiarism, managing your time, reading, note taking, referencing and revision.
  • Student life: It’s not all about academics at Oxford; here you can find out about the range of other opportunities available to you as a student, as well as tips on how to navigate student life with your workload. If you prefer podcasts, much of this information is available in that form here!
  • Managing the cost: Undergraduate students Helena, Joe and Dan, have teamed up with the University’s Undergraduate Admissions team to discuss the financial support available to students and how they manage the cost of studying at Oxford.

Useful contacts

If you have any questions that aren’t answered on this page, you can get in touch with the following people:

ContactQuestions they can answer
Admissions Office: Sarah JonesAnything to do with offers, visas, UCAS issues, reading lists and preparatory materials
Accommodation OfficeAccommodation, what to bring, insurance, electoral roll issues  
BursaryAll things financial
College OfficePractical arrangements, bank letters, etc.
Disability enquiries: Elaine EastgateAny issues relating to disability or special requirements