Skip to main content

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. This degree is internationally recognised as a sign of research excellence. Many of our former PhD students have gone on to have successful careers in academia, the legal profession, the civil service, and in non-governmental organisations. Please see a list of our recently graduated students and their theses here. Information about the annual fees for this course can be found here, and PhD counts as a 'classroom' course for these purposes.

Areas of supervision

Prospective PhD students should consult our list of Areas of Research Supervision and contact staff to discuss potential projects.

Securing funding for PhD studies

Limited funding is available on a competitive basis for undertaking the PhD with details available here. Please note that if you would like to be considered for external funding, applications must be submitted in advance of the deadlines specified on that page.


In order to apply for a PhD, students must meet our entry requirements, detailed below. Once students have checked that they meet the conditions, they should contact a member of staff with a view to them acting as supervisor. When contacting staff, students should share with them a research proposal so the potential supervisor can understand fully the nature of the proposed study.

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

Once accepted onto the programme, students will be inducted into the University and the Law School. Please note that all induction events take place in October, although there is also a limited intake of new students who begin their studies in January or April. We accept applications on a rolling basis throughout the year to accommodate this.

Entry requirements

In order to be admitted onto the PhD programme, students must satisfy the following entry requirements:

  1. You must have a relevant Bachelor's degree or equivalent overseas qualification at the level of a good 2:1 or above. Where that 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. In addition, applicants will have a Masters degree with an average of 65 or above (or equivalent). Please note: we require a copy of your academic transcripts, with a breakdown of your module results before we can process your application.

  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 your most recent IELTs test is more than 2 years old, it will need to be taken again. Applicants whose entrance qualifications were studied in English in certain countries within the last two years are not required to submit evidence of English language proficiency.

Application requirements

In addition to satisfying our entry requirements, applicants must also submit the following documents when they apply.

    1. You must submit a current CV
    2. You must provide a photo page of your passport.
    3. You must supply two academic references from within the past two 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 of no more than 2,000 words, including references but excluding bibliography. Details of the content of a research proposal are explained below. Acceptance is dependent on whether we have the necessary academic expertise in the School. Students must make informal contact with a potential supervisor to discuss their application and research proposal at an early stage. Please note, however, that such contact does not necessarily mean that you will eventually be accepted.
    5. You should state on the application whether you would like to be considered for a scholarship to assist with funding your PhD study. Do note that the Law School has limited funding available for PhD applicants and it is available on a competitive basis. Details of postgraduate funding opportunities are available here

Students must ensure they include all relevant documentation when applying. Any incomplete applications will not be processed.

Research proposals

Your application must include 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.

Your application must name 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 Areas of Research 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 research proposal with this person in advance of your application. This will strengthen your proposal and will increase the likelihood of acceptance onto the programme. 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 Law School Postgraduate Research Co-ordinator on 

Get in touch

Enquiries about Durham Law School and our courses should be sent via the contact links below.

Durham Law School

Durham University
Palatine Centre
Stockton Road