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Home Sources of International Law Archive for category "Comparative Law"

From Babel to Esperanto and Back Again: The Fate of International Law (or of International Lawyers?)

Published on February 8, 2018        Author: 
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This post is part of the Joint Symposium that we are co-hosting with Opinio Juris on Anthea Roberts’ new book Is International Law International? (OUP, 2017). 

While I’ve been reading, I have wondered about the exact nature of Anthea Roberts’ book. A sociological inquiry? A manifesto? A plea? Against arrogance? Against a new Empire? For comparison? For pluralism? Maybe a bit of all this? In any case, it is a polite call for lucidity. It seems the author has tried to confirm some hunches she picked up along the way.

In one sense, writing such a book was a risky enterprise. Contrary to what the title might suggest, Anthea Roberts writes less about international law than about international lawyers, who are in constant danger of thinking of international law in a parochial way while claiming its universality. Indeed this book might be a good way to displease many people, although everyone has the choice between identifying with the tendencies she uncovers or considering themselves an exception. But past that, Anthea Roberts comes out with some statements which can be felt as more or less dreadful, depending on one’s situation. She does not propose a miracle cure but at least a realization. To this extent, her approach is not a pessimistic one.

Admittedly, it is possible to criticize this or that angle of the study, such as the choice – even motivated – to focus on the P5 or the presentation of the specifics of a domestic system which does not seem perfectly understood, or else the delimitation of what is “western”. But what I found most interesting is the way in which Anthea Roberts was able to present an analysis which turns out to be very political, as a project as well as in its outcome. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Parochialism of Western Cosmopolitanism in a Competitive World Order

Published on February 7, 2018        Author: 
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This post is part of the Joint Symposium that we are co-hosting with Opinio Juris on Anthea Roberts’ new book Is International Law International? (OUP, 2017). 

We are familiar with the question: Is international law law? In my new book, I ask instead: Is international law international? Not particularly, is my answer—at least, not in the way that it tends to be conceptualized by international law academics in different states and in the international law textbooks and casebooks that they use.

When asked to reflect on the professional community of international lawyers, Oscar Schachter memorably called it an “invisible college” whose members were “dispersed throughout the world” yet “engaged in a continuous process of communication and collaboration.” But in rendering that college visible, I find that international lawyers may be better understood as constituting a “divisible college” whose members hail from different states and regions and who often form separate (though overlapping) communities with their own understandings and approaches.

In tracing these divisions and considering their consequences, I make three arguments. First, international lawyers are often subject to differences in their incoming influences and outgoing spheres of influence in ways that affect how they understand and approach international law. Second, actors, materials and approaches from some states and regions have come to dominate certain transnational flows and forums in ways that make them disproportionately instrumental in constructing the “international.” Third, existing understandings of the field are likely to be disrupted by factors such as changes in geopolitical power, making it increasingly important for international lawyers to understand the perspectives of those from unlike-minded states.

My book invites international lawyers to look in the mirror to discern and become more reflective about their blind spots and parochialism. It encourages international lawyers to recognize and speak openly about some of the socializing factors, incentives and power dynamics that shape their divisible college. It suggests that they try to see the field through the eyes of others and to diversify their sources, networks and perspectives. This call is particularly appropriate for Western international lawyers—myself included—who often study, work and publish in a Western bubble, which makes it harder for us to understand and adjust to the newly emerging competitive world order. Read the rest of this entry…

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Catalonia: The Way Forward is Comparative Constitutional Rather than International Legal Argument

Published on October 24, 2017        Author: 
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On 10 October 2017, Catalonia issued and then immediately suspended its declaration of independence, and urged Spain to negotiate. Spain does not want to negotiate. Rather, it sought clarification as to whether or not Catalonia’s manoeuvre indeed was a declaration of independence. Such clarification was needed, according to Spain, in order to decide on an appropriate response. Subsequently, Spain announced its plan to remove certain political leaders of Catalonia and impose direct rule on the region. The recent situation in Catalonia has already been addressed on this blog (see here and here). What is striking – or perhaps not – is how little international law actually has to say on secession and indeed even on statehood. Statehood is quite simply a politically-created legal status under international law. Catalonia is yet another proof that statehood is a complicated nexus of law and politics which cannot be explained by legal rules alone. International law merely delineates the field for a political game. Just as studying football rules cannot tell us which team is going to win – Barcelona or Real – studying the law of statehood alone cannot tell us how states emerge. We need to see the game played within certain rules. In this post, I will explain the international legal framework that defines the rules of the political game and argue that the game itself may be much more influenced by comparative constitutional rather than international legal argument.

Unilateral secession between Kosovo para 81 and Quebec para 155

In the modern world, new states can only emerge at the expense of the territorial integrity of another state (see here for details). The emergence of a new state is then a political process of overcoming a counterclaim for territorial integrity. Sometimes states will waive such a claim – the United Kingdom was willing to do that with regard to Scotland. Where the parent state does not waive its claim to territorial integrity, an attempt at secession is unilateral.

The international law on unilateral secession is determined by the Kosovo Advisory Opinion para 81 and the Quebec case para 155. It follows from Kosovo para 81 that unilateral declarations of independence are not illegal per se, i.e. merely because they are unilateral, but illegality may be attached to them in situations similar to Northern Cyprus and Southern Rhodesia. This is not the case with Catalonia. Pursuant to Quebec para 155, the ultimate success of unilateral secession depends on recognition by other states. This pronouncement may sound somewhat problematic in light of international legal dogma that recognition must always be declaratory. Where independence follows from a domestic settlement (e.g. had Scotland voted for independence in 2014), recognition indeed plays little role. But the Supreme Court of Canada was quite right that recognition is much more instrumental – even constitutive – where a claim for independence is unilateral.

 

The Kosovo and Quebec doctrines lead us to the conclusion that where the Northern Cyprus or Southern Rhodesia type of illegality is not attached to a declaration of independence, the obligation to withhold recognition under Article 41 ARSIWA does not apply, and pursuant to Quebec para 155 foreign states may grant recognition, taking into account the legality and legitimacy of a claim for independence. This means that foreign states could recognise Catalonia, but they are under no obligation to do so. Read the rest of this entry…

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Is the EU really more precautionary than the US? Some thoughts in relation to TTIP negotiations

Published on August 9, 2016        Author: 
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On January 26, 2016, during a public meeting organized by the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, the European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, said that the precautionary principle (PP), the principle which enables rapid response in the face of a possible danger to human, animal or plant health, or to protect the environment, is a fundamental rule in the European policies and its compliance is ensured both in the legislative process and trade agreements. Therefore, the principle is central to the negotiations surrounding the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Despite verbal assurances given by Commissioner Malmström, who has radically excluded a possible lowering of PP standards in Europe, the issue deserves to be addressed more carefully.

Europe is often considered more precautionary than the US. A comparative analysis demonstrates that the difference between the two approaches rests on the perception of risks that characterize social realities, and not by the will to apply the principle more or less intensely. As the most careful doctrine already showed, if a wide variety of situations where there is a need for precautionary measures are analyzed, it may be found that application of the the principle in US law is not all that dissimilar to what we see in the European context. Read the rest of this entry…

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Saar Papier v Poland: Comparative Public Law and the Second-Ever Investment Treaty Award

Published on February 3, 2014        Author: 
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            Jarrod Hepburn is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Exeter, UK.

There has been much discussion in recent years – and in recent weeks on this blog – of the potential for investment treaty arbitration to benefit from a ‘comparative public law’ approach. In brief, the approach conceives of investment treaty arbitration as a form of public law, and calls for tribunals to draw on comparative domestic constitutional and administrative law, as well as other regimes of international public law such as WTO law and human rights law, to give content to the often vaguely-worded standards of typical investment treaties.

In the midst of contemporary enthusiasm for comparative public law, it is tempting to think that the approach is a new one that has been growing in prominence only over the last few years. However, this week brings news from Investment Arbitration Reporter that an UNCITRAL-rules investment treaty award dating from 1995, Saar Papier Vertriebs GmbH v Poland, has been unearthed. Amongst other aspects detailed by IAReporter, the case is particularly notable for its explicit use of domestic administrative law to interpret the provisions on indirect expropriation in the Germany-Poland BIT.

Indeed, this newly-uncovered investment treaty award – only the second ever (currently) known to be rendered, following AAPL v Sri Lanka in 1990 – contains intriguing indications that the comparative public law approach is a practically useful one for investment treaty arbitration. Furthermore, the age of this award raises the tempting view that, rather than being a new development in the field, comparative public law has been there all along.

However, as I discuss below, despite the treaty context of the claim, it is unclear whether the Saar Papier tribunal considered itself to be applying international law. Without this international law framework, it becomes more difficult to characterise the case as an instance of comparative public law at work. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Public Law Approach in the Practice of Investment Treaty Arbitration

Published on January 22, 2014        Author: 
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In my last post, I discussed how comparative public law methodology could inform the resolution of investor-State disputes and thus help to reform the system from within. This may sound like a view from the ivory tower. In this post I will first discuss why arbitrators have an incentive to make use of such a methodology and, second, point to existing cases in which tribunals have already adopted a comparative public law framework.

System-Internal Reform and Identity Change

The success of using comparative public law as a system-internal reform strategy depends on the extent to which those active in practice endorse it. Enculturating public law thinking will need an identity change among arbitrators, arbitral institutions, annulment committees, and disputing parties. But why should a change in thinking take place, if there is nobody who coerces arbitrators to incorporate public law thinking or parties to develop their submissions on the basis of comparative public law? Do arbitrators not even have an incentive to keep the system running in a way that it maximizes the benefits of investors as claimants, and in turn, the arbitrators’ own interest in being reappointed? This is what critics like Gus Van Harten argue. In his view,

the novel situation in which claims can be brought by only one class of parties, and only the other class can be found to have violated the treaty, provides investment treaty arbitrators (including those who are state-appointed) with an incentive to favour claimants in order to advance the interests of the industry and their position within it.

Appointment of Arbitrators as a Source of Change

My view is different. I think that the one-off nature of arbitration and the appointment mechanism for arbitrators have a great potential for bringing change to the system. Read the rest of this entry…

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Comparative Law and the Ad Hoc Tribunals: A Reply to Jaye Ellis’ Rejoinder

Published on June 19, 2012        Author: 
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In her rejoinder to my post, Jaye Ellis underscores that “comparative law could help international judges understand general principles as an opportunity to learn from municipal legal systems, rather than as a means of transferring pieces of legal machinery from one system to another”.

Insofar as comparative law is considered merely as an opportunity to “learn” from municipal legal systems, then the matter is relatively uncontroversial. A perhaps more controversial question, however, is: how are the lessons learnt from comparative law to be used?

While some authors, on the one hand, have suggested that the lessons from comparative law may provide safeguards against judges who attempt to legitimate a posteriori a solution that they have already chosen (see Delmas-Marty, The Contribution of Comparative Law to a Pluralist Conception of International Criminal Law, Journal of International Criminal Justice (2003)).

On the other hand, some commentators have suggested that comparative law may be used for precisely the converse reason. Judge Cassese, for instance, intimated that:

Mon experience est que souvent le droit compare est utilise pour confirmer une solution que l’on avait déjà trouvée.(cited in Bohlander and Findlay, The Use of Domestic Sources as a Basis for International Criminal Law Principles, in the Global Community Yearbook of International Law and Jurisprudence (2002)).

It is perhaps this apprehension which explains Judge Cassese’s categorical stance in Erdemović, in relation to the acceptance by the Tribunal of a guilty plea. While the Tribunal concluded that it could restrict its search solely to common law adversarial systems from which the rule was derived, Judge Cassese insisted that such a narrow inquiry was unacceptable. Read the rest of this entry…

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Comparative Law and the Ad Hoc Tribunals: A Rejoinder to Aldo Zammit Borda

Published on June 15, 2012        Author: 
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Jaye Ellis is Associate Professor and Associate Dean, Faculty of Law, McGill University, Canada. Her article General Principles and Comparative Law was published in (2011) 22 (4) EJIL 949-971

In his EJIL:Talk! post commenting on my recent EJIL article, Aldo Zammit Borda begins with reference to an approach to the identification of general principles of international law that is quite different from the one I described as being the current dominant approach, and rather similar to the approach that I propose in my paper. Central to my argument is that comparative law could help international judges understand general principles as an opportunity to learn from municipal legal systems, rather than as a means of transferring pieces of legal machinery from one system to another. The approach taken by Judge Shahabuddeen in Furundzija, and adopted by Aldo, seems compatible with the one I advance. I would propose the adoption of a more modest goal: rather than hoping to find ‘a common underlying sense of what is just in the circumstances’ as Judge Shahabuddeen would have it, I would suggest the identification of a reasonable, and reasonably just, solution to a legal problem. Nevertheless, Judge Shahabuddeen’s approach moves sharply away from a mechanical, or functional, approach to borrowing from municipal legal systems. I am less confident than Aldo regarding the extent to which this principle is reflected in what most international judges do, and what legal scholars say they ought to do, when it comes to general principles, though judges on international criminal tribunals are moving in interesting and promising directions.

I am not convinced that Aldo’s approach to comparative law provides appropriate guidance to international judges looking to learn from municipal law. Schmitthoff’s approach to comparative law, adopted by Aldo, is problematic in my view. I agree with Schmitthoff that comparative law is better described as a comparison among reactions of legal systems to a problem than as a comparison between legal rules and institutions, but I find that the second stage, the utilization of the results obtained, is question-begging. Read the rest of this entry…

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Comparative Law and the Ad Hoc Tribunals: A Reply to Jaye Ellis

Published on June 1, 2012        Author: 
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Aldo Zammit Borda is a PhD candidate at Trinity College, University of Dublin and a Fellow of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. Previously, he served as First Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malta, and as Legal Editor, Commonwealth Secretariat, London.

 1. Introduction

This post seeks to engage with Jaye Ellis’ article on ‘General Principles and Comparative Law’ (22 EJIL (2011) 4, 949–971). While it agrees with Ellis’ general proposition that comparative law provides a valuable resource for the identification of general principles of law, it argues that there are important distinctions to be drawn between the comparative law method and the review of evidence for the purpose of clarifying customary international law and general principles of law. In particular, the argument is made that the identification of general principles is not, as Ellis suggests, the mechanical extraction of the essence of rules. Rather, it is the juridical identification of a common underlying sense of what is just in the circumstances. In her article, Ellis was critical of the late Judge Cassese’s position in Erdemovic, for insisting that an approach which relied primarily on common law systems for guidance on the guilty plea was “unacceptable.” This post however agrees with Judge Cassese’s position and underscores the dangers in accepting narrow inquiries, which at best attach special weight and at worst restrict the scope of  inquiry to a single, specific legal system.

2. Comparative Law And The Ad Hoc Tribunals

In ‘The Science of Comparative Law’ (7 Cambridge LJ (1939-1941) 94), Schmitthoff observes that  “The  first  phase  consists  in  examining  the  reaction  of  a number  of  legal  systems  to  an  individual  legal  problem.  The second stage is concerned with the utilization of the results obtained  in  the  first  phase,  and  this  utilization  can  be  effected for a great variety of reasons.”

This post will mainly be concerned with the first phase of comparative law (the “collation of facts” phase), which assumes, as a prerequisite, that the topics under examination must be comparable. Schmitthoff states that comparative law has to confine itself to legal systems which have reached the same (comparable) level of evolution. Establishing a basis of comparability for the relevant topics is therefore a prerequisite of comparative law. For Barak, this basis of comparability is a common ideology. He states that, with respect to democratic legal systems, a meaningful comparison could only be had with other democratic legal systems.

A. The Application Of Comparative Law By The Ad Hoc Tribunals

Delmas-Marty observed that the attraction of comparative law stems from the sources of international criminal law, at least to the extent that custom and general principles of law are partly based on national law. (‘The Contribution of Comparative Law to a Pluralist Conception of International Criminal Law’, 1 J International Criminal Justice (2003) 13)

1. Comparative Law And Customary International Law

The process of clarifying customary international law requires reviewing evidence from, inter alia, national jurisdictions in order to make out its material sources, namely State practice and opinio juris. The process of reviewing evidence in this context resembles Schmitthoff’s first phase of comparative law, namely, the “collation of facts” phase. Read the rest of this entry…

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General Principles and Comparative Law

Published on May 31, 2012        Author: 
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Jaye Ellis is Associate Professor and Associate Dean, Faculty of Law, McGill University, Canada. Her article General Principles and Comparative Law was published in (2011) 22 (4) EJIL 949-971

My article explores the source ‘general principles of international law’ from the point of view of comparative law scholarship. As international law’s agenda becomes wider and more ambitious, areas of overlap between international and municipal law become ever larger, and interactions between the two levels more numerous. It might seem reasonable to assume that general principles of law, a source which establishes an important point of contact between international and municipal law, would come into its own in such an environment. This has not been the case, however. One possible explanation is hesitation on the part of international judges to identify rules whose formal validity as rules of international law is rather tenuous. Another possible explanation is the highly unsatisfactory nature, both in theory and in practice, of the methodology currently applied to identify general principles of law. The debates at the international level regarding general principles map onto those at the municipal level concerning the ‘borrowing’ of rules from one legal system by another. It makes sense, therefore, to look into the controversies over ‘borrowing’ that play out in scholarship on comparative law, in order to gain some insights into the difficulties generated by the source general principles of law, as well as ways of alleviating these difficulties. I argue that particular attention ought to be paid to strands of comparative law scholarship which take issue with a functional approach – to put it starkly, an approach that treats legal rules as pieces that can be extracted from one machine and inserted into another – and which place emphasis on the processes through which legal systems can learn from one another.

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