The Variable Authority of International Courts

The peer-reviewed journal Law and Contemporary Problems has just published a 314-page special issue edited by Karen Alter, Laurence Helfer and Mikael Rask Madsen. This long-term project, launched at iCourts and involving numerous staff and close collaborators of the Centre, realizes iCourts’ ambition to build theory by comparing the real-world experiences of different international courts (ICs).

The special issue offers the first systematic empirical exploration of the authority of the ten most active ICs. Each article, authored by leading scholars in law, political science and sociology, analyzes how IC authority varies over time, by issue area, and within and across member countries.  The contributors apply the framework developed by the co-editors in the introductory article, “How Context Shapes the Authority of International Courts.”  The key question addressed in the special issue is how to explain the wide variation in the de facto authority of ICs.  Specifically, which contextual factors lead some ICs to become active and prominent judicial bodies that cast a rule-of-law shadow beyond the courtroom, while others remain moribund or legally and politically sidelined?

A number of authors explain how international judges have influenced the environment in which they operate. But the symposium collectively suggests that contextual factors beyond the control of judges may be equally if not more influential, limiting the ability international judges to transform de jure into de facto legal authority.

The articles focus on well known ICs (CJEU, ECtHR, ICC, WTO, ICJ, ICTY) and less well known regional courts in Latin American and Africa (OHADA, EACJ, IACtHR, CCJ.) A book version, to be published by Oxford University press, will include commentaries and  additional chapters focusing on the Andean Tribunal, the SADC, and ECOWAS courts.


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