The 2012 launch of the MCL was the most recent chapter in a long and distinguished history of legal education at Cambridge. Law has been studied and taught at the University of Cambridge since the thirteenth century, when the core subjects of legal study in all European universities were Civil law (the law of ancient Rome) and the Canon law of the Church. English law was added to the curriculum in 1800, with the foundation of the Downing Professorship of the Laws of England. Examinations in law for the BA degree began in 1858, and the Faculty has grown steadily since then in size and in the range of its interests. In 1922 the BA became the only degree in Law awarded to Cambridge undergraduates. At the same time, the LLB (Bachelor of Law) acquired the role of a Master's degree in all but name. In 1982, the LLM, in its present form, replaced the LLB. The MCL is thus the first entirely new degree in Law to be established by the University since the nineteenth century.
The Law Faculty student body comprises about 700 undergraduate and 250 graduate students. Cambridge Law Faculty graduates are prominent in academic life, in the judiciary, and in both branches of the legal profession (solicitors and barristers). Judicial alumni include former and current members of the International Court of Justice, former judges of the European Court of Justice, several members of the English Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, and judges on numerous appellate courts elsewhere around the world.
Numerous distinguished academics have been members of the Cambridge Law Faculty. These include F W Maitland, a prominent legal historian; Glanville Williams, a renowned criminal lawyer and author of Learning the Law; William Wade, a noted administrative lawyer; and Robert Jennings, an eminent international lawyer. Currently, the Law Faculty includes specialists in numerous aspects of English law and its history, the laws of other countries (especially European), commercial law, European Union law, public and private international law, Roman law, legal philosophy and criminology.