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On the Functions of International Courts: An Appraisal in Light of Their Burgeoning Public Authority

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013


This contribution presents international judicial institutions as multifunctional actors against the background of a traditional understanding, which sees just one function: settling disputes. The traditional, one-dimensional understanding eclipses other important functions that many international courts do actually perform in contexts of global governance and it underrates problems in their legitimation. In order to appreciate international adjudications’ manifold contributions to social interaction, the paper first identifies three more functions beyond dispute settlement: the stabilization of normative expectations, law-making, and the control as well as legitimation of authority exercised by others. It then places these functions within broader basic understandings of international courts, which respectively picture them as instruments of the parties in a state-centred world order, as organs of a value-based international community, and as institutions of specific legal regimes. The distinct problems that each of these basic understanding faces lead to the contours of a new paradigm for the study of international courts as actors exercising public authority. The present functional analysis ultimately helps to refine both the phenomenon and normative questions.

Copyright © Foundation of the Leiden Journal of International Law 2013

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84 Lately it has seen a remarkable increase in business, which is not least due to its flexibility and significant changes in the rules that can be applied under its auspices. At present, 29 cases are pending, more than ever before, accessible at

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94 Sure enough, the new international law of the civilized world was also shaped by colonial exploitation and European imperialism.

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121 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1833 UNTS 3, Art. 293(1) (UNCLOS).

122 UNCLOS, supra note 121, Preamble and Arts. 136–49

123 UNCLOS, supra note 121, Arts. 73 and 292.

124 See, e.g., The ‘Juno Trader’ Case (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines v. Guinea-Bissau), Prompt Release Judgment of 18 December 2004, ITLOS Reports 2004, at 17, paras. 76–77.

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131 Howse, R., ‘From Politics to Technocracy – and Back Again: The Fate of the Multilateral Trading Regime’, (2002) 96 AJIL 94CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Weiler, J. H. H., ‘The Rule of Law and the Ethos of Diplomats: Reflections on the Internal and External Legitimacy of WTO Dispute Settlement’, (2002) 13 American Review of International Arbitration 177Google Scholar; Cf. Venzke, I., ‘Making General Exceptions: The Spell of Precedents in Developing Article XX GATT into Standards for Domestic Regulatory Policy’, (2011) 12 German Law Journal 1111Google Scholar.

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139 See Dolzer, R. and Schreuer, C., Principles of International Investment Law (2008), 18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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142 Schill, supra note 40.

143 Saipem S.p.A. v. The People's Republic of Bangladesh, Award of 30 June 2009, ICSID Case No. ARB/05/7, para. 80.

144 See, e.g., CMS Gas Transmission Company v. Argentine Republic, Decision of the ad hoc Committee on the Application for Annulment of the Argentine Republic of 25 September 2007, ICSID Case No. ARB/01/8; Sempra Energy International v. Argentine Republic, Decision on the Argentine Republic's Request for Annulment of the Award, 29 June 2010, ICSID Case No. ARB/02/16. For a critique of the legal arguments underpinning this arguable trend, see Schreuer, C., ‘From ICSID Annulment to Appeal: Half Way Down the Slippery Slope’, (2011) 10 Law and Practice of International Courts and Tribunals 211CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 225.

145 Von Bogdandy and Venzke, supra note 2.