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PhD Programme

Pile of law books

Our Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) postgraduate degree is a research-based programme of study centred on completing a satisfactory thesis of up to 100,000 words on an approved topic in the field of law. The programme is normally three years in length, or six years for part-time students.

Areas of supervision

See our Research Centres for information on areas of supervision available for postgraduate students.


So how much will it all cost? And how will you fund your study? Here you will find all the information you need to work out the cost of studying in Durham, together with general and specific information on sources of funding.


In order to apply for a PhD, you must meet our entry requirements including the provision of a research proposal. Once you have checked that you meet the conditions, your first step should be to make informal contact with a potential supervisor.

The second step in the application process is to complete the online application form.

Please note that all induction events take place in October - this is the starting date for new research students.

Entry requirements

In order to be admitted, students must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. You must have a relevant Bachelor's degree or equivalent overseas qualification. Where the degree is in a discipline other than Law, you must demonstrate a sufficiently deep understanding of the relevant areas of the law or legal thought, which will usually require your degree to have included a substantial Law component. Our minimum standard for admission is a good Upper Second Class Honours degree or equivalent. We normally expect applicants to have a recognised Master's degree (average grade of at least 65% or equivalent) or a Master's degree by research. Those without a Master's degree are expected to provide alternative evidence of the ability to successfully undertake high quality written research. Please note: we require a copy of all of your academic certificates and transcripts, with a breakdown of your module results before we can process your application. Guidance on equivalent grades from overseas institutions
  2. If you are not a native English speaker, you must demonstrate competence in English. Our minimum standard is 7.0 on every component of the IELTS test. Students must achieve this standard before commencing studies. If the highest level of qualification is in excess of 2 years old, an IELTS test will need to be taken again. Applicants whose entrance qualifications were studied in English in certain countries not required to submit evidence of English language proficiency. Please see the list of countries here.
  3. You must supply two academic references (taken within the last 2 years). (We may also accept one professional reference and one academic reference. Applicants should not email references to us themselves. Each reference must be either emailed by the referee directly to us ( uploaded via the application system. All references must be on headed paper and clearly dated.
  4. You must submit a satisfactory research proposal (please see below) of no more than 2,000 words, excluding bibliography.
  5. You must also submit a current CV, as well as a picture of the photo page of your passport.
  6. We must have the necessary expertise in the School. We therefore request that you make informal contact with a potential supervisor to discuss your application and research proposal at an early stage. You should note, however, that such contact does not necessarily mean that you will eventually be accepted.

Research proposals

Your applications must include the following:

  1. A proposal for the research project you wish to undertake. Without this your application cannot be considered. The UK system of research degrees is driven by the student's own choice of project, rather than projects being dictated by supervisors.
  2. The name of the member of academic staff within the Law School whom you believe could act as your primary supervisor. To identify a member of staff please consult the list of potential areas of supervision and then approach the identified person to ask whether they would be willing and able to supervise you. You are advised to discuss your draft proposal with this person in advance of your application. Your application should clearly state with which potential supervisor you have discussed your proposal.

As part of the application process, you may be requested to amend your proposal before we come to a final determination on its suitability.

The research proposal must include an explanation of the research context (i.e. the state of the current research), set out the research questions to be answered in the thesis, and explain the sources and methods that are to be used.

A good PhD proposal will:

  • Introduce your proposal by explaining the ‘research problem’ that your study intends to address. Tell us why it is an important and interesting area for research and how it relates to your own interests/previous research.
  • Provide a review of the literature that shows your familiarity with current knowledge of the ‘research problem’. Tell us how your research will fit with the existing academic/legal/policy literature.
  • Identify the gap in current knowledge on which your project will focus.
  • Formulate clear research questions.
  • Explain how your methodology and approach will enable you to address your research questions.
    • Most legal research is literature based. If, however, you propose to conduct empirical research, then you will need to describe your methodology and proposed methods for sampling, data collection and data analysis, showing how these will allow you to address the research questions. A social science methodology should be supported by reference to the research methods literature. You will need to pay attention to ethical considerations and indicate how you will address them.
  • Provide a research plan showing how you would conduct the research over the period of your PhD.
  • Explain the relevance of your previous experience to the project and what impact your research could make (e.g., to policy/practice as well as knowledge).

Key people

For more information, please contact the Senior Research Administrator.