Graduate Diploma in Law / Common Professional Examination - GDL/CPE

Full Time, Part Time
September 2016
£5,000 for UK/EU Full Time 2016 entry (view all fees)

The GDL (also referred to as a Common Professional Examination, or CPE) is an ideal stepping stone into either a full-time law career or advanced legal study at Masters level. If you do not have an LLB awarded by a university of England and Wales, by completing this course you can then undertake the Bar Professional Training course or the Legal Practice Course, depending on whether you aspire to qualify as a barrister or a solicitor.

Upon completion, you are eligible to undertake the Bar Professional Training Course if you want to qualify as a barrister, or the Legal Practice Course if you want to qualify as a solicitor. If you do not intend to qualify as a solicitor or barrister, the GDL/CPE can also be a stepping stone into more advanced legal study at Master's level.

We have an established record of providing the GDL and have excellent links with Birmingham Law Society and professional practice in the area. We also have a successful LPC course, which our GDL students can progress to. Our innovative approach to legal education is demonstrated by our very successful American legal placement scheme and our active Student Mooting Society.

GDL/CPE courses at all institutions necessarily have a degree of similarity in content and assessment. However, the GDL/CPE at Birmingham City University focuses on supporting you to develop relevant legal skills as well as knowledge content and at the same time offers you a unique opportunity to apply for our US internship scheme*. Those who participate in the scheme will have the opportunity to work on 'real' cases with 'real' clients, combining the academic with the practical and will be able to gain academic credit for it at the same time.

You could complete a US internship

We have active student-led Legal and Mooting Societies. Our Student Mooting Society is one of the most successful in England. Our students have reached numerous finals and semi-finals in the past few years and have regularly beaten teams from some of the country’s most prestigious universities. In the past 10 years, we have beaten eight of the elite Russell Group of universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Leicester and Warwick.

As well as strategic partnerships with respected legal firms such as Irwin Mitchell and Squire Sanders, the School of Law also works closely with Birmingham Law Society and voluntary organisations in the legal sector such as local citizens advice bureaux and the Legal Ombudsman based in Birmingham city centre.

What's covered in the course?

With excellent links with Birmingham Law Society and professional practices in the area, this course provides you with the attributes and knowledge you’ll need to progress in the law field.

By choosing to study this course, you’ll be part of the School of Law, providing you with a wide range of activities and opportunities to gain valuable experience. Our Student Mooting Society is one of the most successful in the country – our students have regularly beaten some of the country’s most prestigious universities, including Cambridge.

You’ll also  have the unique opportunity to undertake a US internship through our Centre for American Legal Studies, gaining practical experience in federal and public state defenders offices, private attorney offices and American university law schools.

You’ll be part of a friendly and inclusive learning environment, with regular access to friendly and supportive tutors, ensuring your individual study needs are met. You’ll be taught through face-to-face and online lectures, seminars, workshops, formative assessment and online multiple choice questions.

The course is accredited by the Joint Academic Stage Board, which represents the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board of England and Wales.

Why Choose Us?

  • By being part of the School of Law, you’ll have the option to take part in a number of extracurricular activities, as well as being able to take advantage of the School’s close relationships with Citizens Advice Bureau, and Birmingham and Coventry Law Centres.
  • The School has strong professional links with the Birmingham Law Society (the UK’s largest law society outside of London), the four Inns of Court and respected firms such as Squire Sanders LLP.
  • Our courses are held in the University’s newest facility, The Curzon Building, ideally located on our City Centre Campus and containing a range of excellent resources.
  • You’ll be able to take advantage of the School’s cutting-edge facilities, including two mock courtrooms that can be used to bring study to life.
  • As the course has a smaller intake than others, you’ll receive proactive and attentive tutor support, ensuring you get the best out of your studies. Our team of staff have extensive experience, providing you with relevant and in-depth knowledge and information.
  • If you complete the GDL and LPC with us, you’ll be awarded an LLB Legal Practice.
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This course is open to International students

School of Law

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*Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey 2016

Where our students go

Our students have gone on to work with companies such as:

  • My Home More

And in jobs such as:

  • Conveyancer

Entry Requirements

You are required to meet one of the following options:

UK students

The GDL/CPE is primarily aimed at non-law graduates, so a good bachelor's degree is usually a minimum requirement.

The bachelor's degree must be conferred by a University in the UK or Ireland (see below for overseas qualifications).

We normally look for at least a good lower second class honours degree, although we will consider applications from those who fall below this.

There are exceptions made to the requirement for a bachelor's degree for some legal executives and other mature applicants.

Additional requirements for those who may want to become a barrister

For those who are interested in a career at the bar, you will need a minimum of a lower second class honours degree.

If you have an oversees degree or do not have an undergraduate degree you will need to contact the Bar Standards Board in the first instance for them to make a decision about whether you would be eligible.

If you are eligible to join the GDL/CPE they will issue you with a letter to confirm your suitability to start the course (A certificate of Academic Standing).

If you have any queries about this, or have been unsuccessful with your application to the Bar Standards Board, but would still like to consider becoming a solicitor, then you can contact the GDL course Director to discuss your options. It may be possible to offer you a place.

Please note that some BPTC providers require a minimum of an upper second class honours degree.

Overseas degree

If you have an overseas degree and may want to become a barrister you must obtain a Certificate of Academic Standing from the Bar Standards Board before you start the GDL/CPE, otherwise you may not be able to qualify as a barrister.

If you have an oversees degree and know you do not want to become a barrister, then you will not need a certificate of academic standing so you should forward copies of your educational certificates along with your application.

English Language requirements


International students whose first language is not English, will require IELTS 6.5 across all elements or equivalent.

Further information can be found at Information for International Enquirers.

UK or EU students

Award Start Mode Duration Fees
GDL/CPE Sep 2016 FT 1 year £5,000 Apply online now
PT 2 years £2,500 per year

If you're unable to use the online form for any reason, you can complete our PDF application form instead.

International Students

Award Start Mode Duration Fees
GDL/CPE Sep 2016 FT 1 year £12,000 Apply online now

The University reserves the right to increase fees broadly in line with increases in inflation, or to reflect changes in government funding policies or changes agreed by Parliament.

Additional costs

There may be additional costs associated with purchasing text books. If you are joining the course which has a professional body accreditation you may be required to pay membership or examination costs. For details of these costs, please click on the link below.

Based on the past experience of our students, you might find it helpful to set aside about £50 for each year of your studies for your personal stationery and study materials. All our students are provided with 100 free pages of printing each year to a maximum total value of £15.

Find additional costs for your course

Your personal statement

Your personal statement is a highly important part of your application. It gives you a crucial opportunity to say why you’re applying and why the institution should accept you.

Here are the key areas you’ll need to address:

Course choice

Why does this course appeal? What areas are of particular interest?

Career plans

If you have a specific career in mind, say how your chosen course will help you pursue this goal.

Work experience

Mention any work that is relevant to your subject, highlighting the skills and experience gained.

School or college experience

Highlight skills gained at school/college, eg summer schools or mentoring activities.

Non-accredited skills or achievement

eg Duke of Edinburgh Award, Young Enterprise scheme.

You should also mention your future plans – if you’re planning to take a year out, don't forget to give your reasons. Talk about any subjects you’re studying that don’t have a formal assessment and any sponsorships or placements you’ve applied for. And don't be scared to add in details about your social, sports or leisure interests.

Get more information on writing personal statements.

Financial support

Find out more about possible financial support during your studies.

This course is available part-time

Got any questions?

Search our Frequently Asked Questions for a range of information about our courses and studying here.

Financial support

Find out more about possible financial support during your studies.


Law of Tort

The aim of this module is to explore aspects of substantive tort law, such as liability for negligent acts or omissions, and provides a sound basis for the understanding and application of the legal concepts and principles involved.

Law of Contract

Here you’ll explore aspects of the substantive Law of Contract, such as identifying how enforceable contracts are created; the module provides a sound basis for the understanding and application of the legal concepts and principles involved. 

Criminal Law

Providing an introduction to the basic principles of criminal law, you’ll assess homicide and sexual, property and participatory offences, as well as examining general defences including insanity, automatism, duress, necessity and self-defence. The module will provide you with a critical examination of the historical, political and ethical background to modern criminal law.

Constitutional and Administrative Law

This module introduces you to some of the fundamental principles of the UK Constitution, such as how the doctrine of Parliamentary Supremacy and the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary. It also looks at the principle of judicial review - how private citizens can seek review of and accountability for governmental and public body decisions that affect them.

Law of the European Union

You’ll examine the EU’s historical and political background as an organisation, its impact on EU citizens and its relationship to the UK’s constitutional system. Throughout the module there will be an emphasis on the further development of legal skills, including independent and group research.

Land Law

You’ll be introduced to a range of attributes that inform land law, from legal estates, adverse possession, easements, covenants and mortgages. There will be an emphasis on how the law operates in context, and the module also focuses on developing your knowledge and critical analysis skills.

Independent project or American Legal Practice

Independent Project

This module provides an opportunity to undertake a short research project into an area of law of specific interest to you. You’ll be allocated a supervisor with expertise in the area and with their guidance design and answer a relevant research question.


American Legal Practice (ALP)

This module gives you the chance to undertake a unique placement in the USA, gaining first-hand experience and enabling you to enhance your CV and gain new cultural insights. Previous students have worked on death row and various other innovating cases, and have worked in federal and public state defenders offices, private attorney offices and American university law schools.

*This module requires self-funding if chosen.

*Students who are considering the ALP module should be aware that:

  • Placements cannot be guaranteed and there is a selection process involved. An alternative assessment process for those students who are ultimately not able to go on placement
  • The placement is self-funded and the costs are not included in the course fees.
  • The placements take place over the summer vacation and are for a minimum of six weeks. This means that if you undertake a placement you will not get your final results until early September once you return from placement.
Equity and Trusts

From examining the nature of a trust and its historical foundations, to breach of trust and personal liability, this module will help you develop knowledge of and the ability to research, analyse and apply the principles that govern trusts law and equity.

Course Structure

You’ll learn through a combination of guided self-study, face-to-face teaching sessions and an assessment scheme designed to help you learn, as well as assess your progress and achievement.

The first two weeks of the course will see you attend our induction sessions, helping you settle into University life and the course itself. You’ll then receive weekly lectures and attend fortnightly seminars, as well as workshop sessions on particular topics.

Teaching Sessions (Full-Time)

If you’re studying full-time, all teaching sessions take place on two days a week throughout the year, likely to be Tuesdays and Thursdays, and you’ll need to be able to attend from 9am to 5pm on both days. Although some weeks can differ, you will normally have approximately 12-14 hours of face-to-face teaching sessions per week.

The first three weeks will focus on introducing you to the English legal system and some of the principles of studying law. You’ll then start lectures and seminars in other core modules. In addition to the face-to-face teaching sessions, you’ll also be expected to undertake approximately 25-30 hours per week of independent and guided study, which may include online activities and audio lectures.

*The course is undergoing a revalidation process at present and it is possible that this structure may change slightly for 2016/17. Any change is likely to provide a little more flexibility by slightly reducing the amount of time required on each day of attendance. Please contact the course director if you need further information.

Teaching Sessions (Part-Time)

For the first two weeks of the course, you’ll need to attend two days a week (likely to be Tuesdays and Thursdays). After this, you’ll only attend teaching sessions one day a week  (likely to be Tuesday in your first year and Thursday in your second). Alongside face-to-face lectures and seminars, you’ll also have regular monthly workshops in each core module, and you’ll be expected to undertake approximately 12-15 hours per week of independent and guided study, which may include online activities and audio lectures.

Please note that the information above relates to the current structure of the course. The structure is currently under review and there may be some changes for students starting in September 2016. It’s unlikely these changes will affect the days of attendance, but changes may affect the length of time are required to attend for on each day. Please contact the course director if you need further information. 


The course is overseen by the Joint Academic Stage Board and is based on eight core modules, plus one further module on another area of law.

Trips and visits

Our Student Mooting Society is one of the most successful in England. Our students successfully enter mooting teams in a variety of prestigious national mooting competitions including:

  • The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting
  • Oxford University Press
  • English Speaking Union
  • Inner Temple Inter-Varsity Competition

They organise a range of internal mooting and social activities throughout the academic year, including the School of Law Internal Mooting Competition which is sponsored by LexisNexis Butterworths.

In the past, Law students have visited The Supreme Court in London, as well as the UN in Brussels.

Further Study

Upon completion of the GDL, there are a range of courses you could then study to further increase your knowledge and employability. Options for further study at our University include:

Student stories Darren Middleton

I chose to study at Birmingham City University as it offered me the chance to obtain the qualifications that I wanted at a competitive price. They gave me the opportunity to achieve my qualifying law degree in the form of the Graduate Diploma in Law / Common Professional Examination (GDL/CPE) and go on to do the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which I am currently studying, so that I am able to become a lawyer.

The staff on the GDL/CPE are so enthusiastic, approachable and knowledgeable about their subject areas. For the vast majority of my time in the School of Law, I have benefited from small class sizes and strong contact with tutors.

Employment Opportunities

A GDL/CPE not only prepares you for a career in law, but also equips you with a range of transferrable skills, enabling you to enter a number of professions. Many of our graduates progress into roles as solicitors and barristers, while others pursue law-related careers in both the private and public sectors.

Many legal sector employers encourage applications from GDL/CPE students as often they have had more life and work experience than the average LLB graduate and can bring with them knowledge and skills from a different sector.

Our American Legal Placement module is designed to help you develop practical legal and professional skills in a completely different environment - something that really stands out on your CV that will help you secure a job in the legal or other professional sector

Qualifying as a Solicitor or Barrister of England and Wales

Solicitors provide clients with legal advice often during times of extreme stress such as arrest, divorce, moving house or bereavement. They also represent clients in corporate or commercial transactions. As a solicitor, you may work in a firm with other solicitors or set up your own practice, or you might work in central or local government, an in-house legal department, the Crown Prosecution Service or the magistrates’ courts.

Barristers are specialists in advocacy - the act of presenting cases in court under instruction from a solicitor or another designated professional. Typically, the duties of a barrister may include preparing briefs (cases) for court, presenting arguments in court, examining and cross examining witnesses and preparing legal documents. Most barristers work on a self-employed basis, from chambers, although an increasing number work in private and public organisations.

Although other routes into the profession are increasingly possible, to qualify as either a solicitor or barrister of England and Wales, the generally accepted route requires you to first of all complete either an LLB or GDL/CPE from a university in England and Wales.

If you wish to qualify as a solicitor, after completing the LLB or GDL/CPE you will usually need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Once you have completed the LPC, you must complete a two-year training contract with a firm of solicitors. You will be qualified as a Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales upon completion of the two-year training contract. The regulations concerning qualification as a solicitor have undergone some recent reform, aimed at providing alternative routes into the profession. However, it is likely that the traditional GDL/LLB, LPC and training contract route will be the route favoured by most solicitors firms for the next few years for the immediate future.

If you wish to qualify as a barrister, after completing the LLB or GDL/CPE you will need to complete the Bar Professional Training Course (prior to September 2010 this was known as the Bar Vocational Course). You are “called to the Bar” once you complete the Bar Professional Training Course and are then entitled, without further training, to use the title Barrister of England and Wales. However, if you wish to practise in England and Wales you must also complete a one-year pupillage with a barristers’ chamber.

LLB (Hons) or GDL/CPE
Legal Practice Course Bar Professional Training Course (previously the Bar Vocational Course)
Two year training contract within a solicitors’ legal practice Qualified as a Barrister of England and Wales
Qualified as a solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales One year pupillage within a Barristers’ Chambers
Qualified as a practising Barrister of England and Wales

Figure: Routes to qualification as a solicitor or barrister within England and Wales

Qualification as an Overseas Lawyer

Many of our international students join the School of Law with the intention of practising law, normally in their home country.

Our GDL/CPE is recognised by some overseas legal professional bodies, particularly in Commonwealth countries. However, it is not as widely recognised as the LLB.

If you intend to practise in your home country, you should contact your local Law Society or Bar Council to ensure the GDL/CPE is recognised. The majority will require you to undertake additional training after graduation before being authorised to practise law.

Some overseas Law Societies and Bar Councils will offer exemptions from all or part of their own training requirements if you qualify as a solicitor or barrister of England and Wales. For example, the Malaysian Bar recognises both solicitors and barristers of England and Wales – to be authorised as a solicitor and advocate of Malaysia you would have to complete a pupillage in Malaysia.


OpportUNIty Student Ambassador

OpportUNIty: Student Jobs on Campus ensures that our students are given a first opportunity to fill many part-time temporary positions within the University. This allows you to work while you study with us, fitting the job around your course commitments. By taking part in the scheme, you will gain valuable experiences and employability skills, enhancing your prospects in the job market.

It will also allow you to become more involved in University life by delivering, leading and supporting many aspects of the learning experience, from administration to research and mentoring roles.

Graduate jobs
Student stories - Julian B. Knowles QC

After completing the Common Professional Qualification (CPE) - now known as the Graduate Diploma in Law - in 1993, Julian B Knowles has built a distinguished career as a barrister specialising in criminal law and human rights law.

Making the move to London after graduation, he spent a year at the Inns Court School of Law and went on to spend time as a pupil barrister, before commencing practice in 1995.

Making his mark early, he won his first House of Lords case after being in practice for less than a year. No stranger to working on cases attracting global media attention, he went on to successfully defend General Pinochet and Siôn Jenkins, and he is also part of a team of counsel that has fought against the death penalty around the world.


There is an opportunity to undertake a valuable placement while studying this course, giving you the chance to gain first-hand experience and put knowledge into practice.

Graduate Darren Middleton undertook a summer internship, arranged through the School of Law’s American Legal Practice programme.

“I worked at the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic (DPLC) in Kansas City, Missouri. The DPLC is a law firm dedicated to the defence of persons sentenced to death row. I studied the GDL as a mature student, and although the course was intensive, as students we all worked together and the staff are extremely approachable, enthusiastic and knowledgeable.”

International Students

Birmingham City University is a vibrant and multicultural university in the heart of a modern and diverse city. We welcome many international students every year – there are currently students from more than 80 countries among our student community.

The University is conveniently placed, with Birmingham International Airport nearby and first-rate transport connections to London and the rest of the UK.

Our international pages contain a wealth of information for international students who are considering applying to study here, including:

Birmingham City University International College (BCUIC)

International students who have a serious interest in studying with us but who perhaps cannot meet the direct entry requirements, academic or English, or who have been out of education for some time, can enter Birmingham City University International College (BCUIC) and begin their degree studies.


BCUIC is part of the global Navitas Group, an internationally recognised education provider, and the partnership allows students to access the University’s facilities and services and move seamlessly through to achieving a Bachelor’s degree from Birmingham City University.

Learn more about BCUIC

Curzon facilities eatery
Curzon facilities staircase
Curzon facilities student hub

Our Facilities

We are constantly investing in our estate and are currently in the process of spending £260 million on new learning facilities.

The Curzon Building

This course is based at the City Centre Campus – and specifically The Curzon Building, alongside other Law, Business, Social Sciences and English courses

The £63m building offers students a unique social learning space, including a dedicated student hub incorporating student support services, in the heart of Birmingham’s Eastside development.

The facilities at the Curzon building include two bespoke Law Courtrooms, replicating a Crown court and a Magistrates court. These rooms will play a key part in your learning experience, allowing you to try your hand in mock court cases, whilst also being the venue for our Mooting and Debating Societies.

On top of this, the Curzon building houses an extensive Law library, with books covering every aspect of Law history.

The Curzon Building also features:

  • An impressive new library with access to over 65 million full text items and stunning views of Eastside City Park
  • Your Students’ Union which is located in a beautifully restored 19th century pub, The Eagle and Ball
  • A modern 300-seat food court with space to study and socialise
  • Brand new, accessible IT facilities with full Office365 for all students for free
  • Shared facilities with the wider campus including the Parkside Building and Millennium Point

Jonathan Cooper

Programme Director CPE/GDL; Senior Lecturer

Jonathan Cooper is a senior lecturer and CPE/GDL Programme Director for the School of Law. He has been with the University since 2009 and qualified as a solicitor at Walker Morris Solicitors in Leeds, specialising in landlord and tenant law and property litigation.

Sarah Cooper

Dr Sarah Cooper

Senior Lecturer in Law

Dr Sarah Cooper is a Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of Mooting. Sarah leads Criminal Law on the LLB and carries out her research in the Centre for American Legal Studies. She co-teaches American Criminal Procedure and American Legal Practice.

Dr Ewan Kirk

Senior Lecturer

Ewan Kirk is currently the Senior Personal Tutor on the LLB Programme within the Law School. Ewan currently teaches EU Law and Intellectual Property Law at undergraduate and postgraduate level. His areas of research interest include intellectual property law and internet law.

Jill Molloy

Senior Lecturer; Year 1 LLB Tutor and Admissions Tutor

Jill Molloy is a Senior Lecturer in Law, Programme Director of the LLB four year degree recognised by the Bar Council of India, Year Tutor on the LLB and Admissions Tutor for the LLB. She leads Evidence, Proof and Argument and co-teaches the lectures in Criminal Law on the LLB.

Stephen Swann

Dr Stephen Swann

Senior Lecturer

Dr Stephen Swann lectured at Oxford Brookes University, the University of Leicester and the University of Dundee before becoming a teaching and research fellow at the University of Osnabrueck, Germany. He has been a Research Assistant within the Property and Trust Law Team at the Law Commission.

Luci Kartar-Hyett

Luci Kartar-Hyett


Luci Kartar-Hyett is a lecturer in Law. Her current area of expertise is in the delivery of lectures in Equity & Trusts, as well as conducting seminars with students in EU law and land law.

Mark Eccleston-Turner

Mark Eccleston-Turner


Mark Eccleston-Turner is a Lecturer in Law. His main research interests are in global health law, medical law and public law. Mark lectures in Public Law and English legal System and Practice.

Sonya Smith

Sonya Smith

Deputy Head of the School of Law (Academic Programme Development)

Sonya Smith is Deputy Head of the School of Law (Academic Programme Development) at Birmingham City University. Prior to joining the University Sonya was previously a solicitor dealing first of all with family law matters, then moving into employers’ liability and personal injury claims.

UK prospective students:

UK enquiry form

+44 (0)121 331 5595

EU / International prospective students:

International enquiry form

+44 (0)121 331 5389

Already applied?

Email the applications team

+44 (0)121 331 6295