Bachelor of Civil Law

Bachelor of Civil Law (abbreviated BCL or B.C.L.; Latin: Baccalaureus Civilis Legis) is the name of various degrees in law conferred by English-language universities. The BCL originated as a postgraduate degree in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but many universities now offer undergraduate law degrees under the same label. Reference to civil law was not originally in contradistinction to common law, but to canon law, although it is true that common law was not taught in the civil law faculties in either university until at least the second half of the 18th century. However, some universities in English-speaking countries use the degree in the former sense.

Postgraduate degrees

The modern BCL: Oxford

At Oxford, the degree of Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) is a taught postgraduate degree in English law, occupying a similar position as the Master of Laws (LLM) programmes of other British universities, but specifically for common law degree holders. Students with civil law degrees following the same programme are awarded the degree of Magister Juris (MJur). Oxford claims that the BCL is "the most highly regarded taught masters-level qualification in the common law world".[1] The course differs from many LLM programmes insofar as it provides not only seminar—and lecture—format teaching, but also the intensive small-group tutorials that characterize Oxbridge's undergraduate tutorial system.[2] The principal mode of assessment for the BCL and MJur is end-of-year examinations held in Oxford's Examination Schools after the end of Trinity term.[2] The degree is either an overall "pass" or an overall "distinction", the latter requiring more than 70 marks in two or more of the four courses and not less than 60 in any of the courses. The Vinerian Scholarship is awarded to the student deemed to have the best overall performance on the BCL; examples of past Vinerian Scholars include the Law Lords Lord Hoffmann[3], Lord Edmund-Davies and Lord Saville.

Historically, the BCL was established as the lower degree in Oxford's Faculty of Civil Law, the higher degree being the Doctor of Civil Law. The Faculty of Civil Law was so named to distinguish it from the faculty of canon law which was abolished in both universities by King Henry VIII in 1535. In the 16th century, it generally took three years to study for the BCL if the student had previously obtained an MA degree at Oxford. It was, however, possible to enter the Faculty of Law directly after matriculation as a 'Student in Civil Law', without taking a BA first. In this case, it took four to five years to take the BCL.[4] From the 1850s, the BCL could only be taken by those who had an Oxford BA, but at the end of the 19th century it was restructured: While it was still possible for Oxford BAs to complete it in one year, graduates from other universities were admitted to the BCL as a two-year taught degree course.[5] This dual structure was still in place in the 1960s,[6] but at least since 1991, the BCL has been a one-year course both for graduates from Oxford and elsewhere. In 1991, the degree of Magister Juris (MJur) was introduced as a degree in European and Comparative Law. Around 2000, this was reshaped into a degree with the same structure and papers as the BCL, but for graduates from non-common law backgrounds.[7]

The syllabus consisted entirely of Roman civil law until the establishment of the Vinerian Professorship of English Law in 1758. Undergraduate examinations in law were not established until 1850, with the separate BA undergraduate honour school of Jurisprudence being established in 1872. Before 1960, there were seven papers, of which six were compulsory: Jurisprudence, the Roman Law of Ownership and Possession, the Roman Law of Condictiones, Common Law (comprising the general principles of contract, torts, and crime), Equity, and Conflict of Laws. The optional paper was to be chosen from either the Law of Evidence, the Law of Negotiable Instruments, specified topics in Public International Law, or the Roman-Dutch Law of Testamentary and Intestate Succession.[6] In 1960, the syllabus was changed to six papers, of which four were compulsory: Common Law (comprising the general principles of contract and torts), the Roman Law of Ownership and Possession, Equity, and Conflict of Laws. The two optional papers were to be chosen from either the Development of Modern Jurisprudence, the Roman Law of Condictiones, the Law of Evidence, Criminal Law and Penology, Public International Law, Roman Dutch Law, Legal History: the Legislation of Edward I, Administrative Law, the Comparative Law of Matrimonial Causes.[8] For non-Oxford graduates, there was a Preliminary Examination after the first year.[9] Nowadays, four papers can be chosen from a wide range of options.

The academic dress for both BCL and MJur graduates consists of the lay faculties' masters' gown with a hood of steel blue silk half lined and bound with white rabbit fur.

The historical BCL: elsewhere

The Faculty of Civil Law in Cambridge was renamed the Faculty of Laws after the teaching of English common law was introduced in the 19th century. The initial postgraduate degree in the faculty became the LLB, before being retitled LLM in the 20th century in order to clarify its status as a postgraduate degree. The BCL degree in Durham University is now also titled LLM. Within the UK, only the Law Faculty at Oxford has retained the older nomenclature.

Before it was renamed in 1969 as the Bachelor of Laws degree, the bachelor's degree in common law conferred by Canada's University of New Brunswick was known as the Bachelor of Civil Law.

Until replaced by the Juris Doctor in 1967, the Bachelor of Civil Law was the degree granted by the first law school in the United States, the William & Mary School of Law founded in 1779.

Undergraduate degrees


The B.C.L. degree is also a standard law degree in Ireland. It is awarded by constituent universities of the National University of Ireland, such as University College Cork, University College Dublin and the National University of Ireland, Galway and National University of Ireland, Maynooth. The B.C.L. degree is also offered by Dublin City University.[10] Other Irish universities, including the University of Limerick and the University of Dublin, award the LL.B. degree. The LLB is offered at postgraduate level by University College Cork, NUI, Galway, and the University of Limerick also.

Specifically civil law degrees

Canada (B.C.L. / LL.B. / LL.L.)

At McGill University, the bachelor's degree in Quebec civil law is called the Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.), to distinguish it from the bachelor's degree in common law offered by that same university: Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.). Graduates earn both degrees concurrently after three to four years of study.

The University of Ottawa, although located in Ontario, also offers a baccalaureate degree in Quebec civil law, which it styles the LL.L. (Latin Legum Licentiatus, Licentiate of Laws), to distinguish it from the first degree in common law (i.e., the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.), now renamed as the Juris Doctor (J.D.)) offered by that same university.

The other universities in Quebec that offer a baccalaureate degree in Quebec civil law (Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université Laval and Université de Sherbrooke) call it an LL.B. (baccalauréat en droit), though in the past the degree at Université de Montréal and Université Laval was styled as the Legum Licentiatus (LL.L.).

These bachelor's degrees in Quebec civil law (LL.B., B.C.L. or LL.L. depending on the university) are a first-entry degree programme which, like other first-entry university programmes in any discipline in Quebec, require a college diploma for entry. Except in the cases of both Ottawa and McGill, they are three years in length. The common law LL.B. and Quebec civil law LL.L. are combined in programmes offered by both the University of Ottawa and by McGill University. McGill offers a "transystemic program" of 105 credits. Students can choose to complete the curriculum in 3, 3.5 or 4 years. Admission to the McGill programme can be a first-entry programme in the case of Quebec students (30 students every year are admitted straight out of college while others still need an undergraduate degree even if they are from the Province of Québec) while it is a second-entry programme in the case of students from other provinces (as three to four years of university studies is required, effectively at least two extra years of studies more than for a college diploma).

While the baccalaureate degree in Quebec civil law is the terminal professional degree for entry into the bar admission programme of the Barreau du Québec (Bar of Quebec), a candidate for entry into the training programme of the Chambre des Notaires du Québec must, after that baccalaureate degree, go on to obtain a Diplôme de deuxième cycle en droit notarial (graduate studies Diploma of Notarial Law) from Université de Montréal, Université Laval, Université d'Ottawa or Université de Sherbrooke that requires two semesters of full-time study. At Université de Montréal, by completing two additional graduate-level law classes and doing a directed studies paper, the student can also earn an LL.M. in Notarial Law, in addition to the Diploma of Notarial Law.

Louisiana (United States)

The Paul M. Hebert Law Center on the campus of Louisiana State University in the U.S. confers on the graduates of its law program a combined J.D. (Juris Doctor) / D.C.L. (Diploma of Civil Law) in view of the Louisiana civil law components of the program. The D.C.L. (which was awarded as a B.C.L. for those classes graduating in the 2003 - 2006 academic years) reflects the 15 added credit hours of legal study in civil law and comparative international law, in addition to that which is required for achieving the standard J.D. The additional course hours, which are roughly equal to one additional semester of study, are generally achieved through a combination of taking summer course offerings on campus or abroad, as well as via one or more other available routes offered by the Law Center.[11]

See also


  1. "BCL & MJur 2015/16 E-Brochure". University of Oxford, Faculty of Law. Archived from the original on 22 August 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  2. "Oxford Law: BCL". Archived from the original on 2011-05-29. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  3. "Lord Hoffmann". Oxford Law Faculty. 2015-07-16. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  4. Craig R. Thompson. Universities in Tudor England, p. 18
  5. Brockliss, L.W.B. The University of Oxford. A History. Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 482
  6. Harris, D.R. Changes in the B.C.L. Syllabus at Oxford, 6 J. Soc'y Pub. Tchrs. L. n.s. 121 (1961), p. 121
  7. "Introduction to the BCL/MJur". 15 September 2015.
  8. Harris, D.R. Changes in the B.C.L. Syllabus at Oxford, 6 J. Soc'y Pub. Tchrs. L. n.s. 121 (1961), p. 121-2
  9. Harris, D.R. Changes in the B.C.L. Syllabus at Oxford, 6 J. Soc'y Pub. Tchrs. L. n.s. 121 (1961), p. 125-6
  10. "DCU BCL Degree". Archived from the original on 2009-08-01. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
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