International Courts and Legalism in International Law

Adam Wiśniewski

Abstract


In this article, I argue that legalism, understood as a stronger commitment of states (and other subjects) to the observance of the rules of international law, was fostered by the dynamic development of international courts and tribunals, which started in the 1990s. This contribution has manifested itself in various ways, both external and internal. The multiplication of international courts, coupled with the widespread compulsory jurisdiction, has been crucial to strengthening state commitment to adhere to their international obligations. The interpretation and application of international norms ceased to depend solely on the subjective discretion of states. Therefore, judicialisation is rightly presented as a process of taming the Leviathan and gradually subjecting it to the international rule of law. The problem of legalism in the context of international courts can, and should, also be examined in its “internal” aspect. This entails the examination of a number of issues connected with the courts’ status, competence, function, case law coherence and stability, judgment implementation, etc. Despite the problems and risks involved, the proliferation of international courts and tribunals can be perceived as one of the most important components of the dynamic transition of international law in recent decades.
In this sense, one might argue that Hart was right in claiming that the functioning of courts, endowed with compulsory jurisdiction, is one of the conditions for recognising international law as genuine law.
Another important effect of the judicialisation on international law is that, at the very least, certain international norms have acquired “objective” nature, detached from the will of states. This is due to the interpretation and application of these norms no longer depending solely upon the subjective discretion of states, but rather becoming subject to consideration and examination by an independent judicial body.
Judicialisation is, thus, rightly presented as a process of taming the Leviathan and gradually subjecting it to the international rule of law. Beyond any doubt, this process and its consequences markedly change the face of international law. The multiplication of international courts results in expanding the judicial institutional layer, making international law less horizontal. Additionally, in consequence of growing case law, the system of international law becomes more complex, developed, and mature. The development of international law is a natural aspect of the judicial function. This is due to the fact that international norms are, in many cases, incomplete and unclear, necessitating their interpretation, adaptation, and development in particular cases.

Keywords


international courts; legalism; judicialisation

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