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Regional Integration through Law and International Courts – the Interplay between De Jure and De Facto Supranationality in Central America and the Caribbean


The article proposes an innovative theoretical framework outlining preconditions for Regional International Courts (RICs) to act as engines of supranationality in different institutional and socio-political contexts. In so doing, the article nuances the theoretical approaches to supranationality and supranational adjudication. The article focuses on the Central American Court of Justice (CACJ) and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Both courts have been branded institutional copies of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU); they have even borrowed key jurisprudential principles from the Luxembourg Court with the goal of expanding the reach of Central American and Caribbean Community Laws. Yet, both the CACJ and the CCJ have thus far failed to foster supranationality in their respective systems. This is because the conditions allowing RICs to become engines of integration lie, for the most part, beyond the direct control of the judges, most notably, with other institutional, political, and societal actors, such as national judges, regional organs, legal and political elites, as well as academics. The article thus suggests that RICs can become engines of supranationality only to the extent to which they are supported by a set of institutional, political, and societal pre-conditions allowing for the concrete enforcement of the rulings of the RIC at the regional and national levels.

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1 Stein E., ‘Lawyers, Judges, and the Making of a Transnational Constitution’, (1981) 75 American Journal of International Law 1 ; Weiler J.H.H., ‘The Transformation of Europe’, (1991) Yale Law Journal 2403 ; B. De Witte et al., Judicial Activism at the European Court of Justice (2013).

2 Jetschke A. and Lenz T., ‘Does Regionalism Diffuse? A New Research Agenda for the Study of Regional Organizations’, (2013) 20 Journal of European Public Policy 626 . See also, K.J. Alter, The European Court's Political Power (2009).

3 K.J. Alter, The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights (2013).

4 The interviews were conducted during three field trips in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, Nicaragua, and El Salvador between 2013 and 2014. Interviews are cited by their number. See the Appendix.

5 Madsen M.R. and Dezalay Y., ‘The Force of Law and Lawyers: Pierre Bourdieu and the Reflexive Sociology of Law’, (2012) 8 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 433 .

6 Vauchez A., ‘The Force of a Weak Field: Law and Lawyers in the Government of the European Union (For a Renewed Research Agenda)’, (2008) 2 International Political Sociology 128 ; Holtermann J. v. H. and Madsen M.R., ‘European New Legal Realism and International Law: How to Make International Law Intelligible’, (2015) 28 Leiden Journal of International Law 211 .

7 The field is defined as a ‘space of contestation over defining the law [and institutions] in which different agents occupy positions relative to the portfolio of capitals they can muster and which are capitalized according to the logic of the specific field in question’. See Madsen M.R., ‘Sociological Approaches to International Courts’, in Romano C., Alter K.J., and Shany Y. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of International Adjudication (2013), 388 . See also more generally P. Bourdieu and L. Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (1992).

8 Madsen and Dezalay, supra note 5.

9 Helfer L.R. and Slaughter A.M., ‘Toward a Theory of Effective Supranational Adjudication’, (1997) Yale Law Journal 273, at 277.

10 A. Acharya and A.I. Johnston, Crafting Cooperation: Regional International Institutions in Comparative Perspective (2007).

11 See Helfer and Slaughter, supra note 9.

12 A. Etzioni, Political Unification Revisited: On Building Supranational Communities (2001). It is important to underline that the idea of institutional supranationality does not encompass actual independence of regional organs from member states. Rather, institutional supranationality is solely related to formal independence granted by norms. Whether a regional organ is actually independent from its member states is an empirical question that must be verified cases by case.

13 Burley A.M. and Mattli W., ‘Europe Before the Court: A Political Theory of Legal Integration’, (1993) 47 International Organization 41 .

14 Goldman R.K.History and Action: the Inter-American Human Rights System and the Role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’, (2009) 31 Human Rights Quarterly 856 .

15 Weiler J.H.H., ‘The Community System: the Dual Character of Supranationalism’, (1981) 1 Yearbook of European Law 267 .

16 de Búrca G., ‘The European Court of Justice and the Evolution of EU Law’, in Börzel T.A. and Cichowski R.A. (eds.), The State of the European Union, 6: Law, Politics and Society (2003). Similar to what has been expressed in supra note 12, the idea of normative supranationality is mostly concerned with the formal prevalence of regional laws over national ones and not with the actual impact of these principles in national legal orders. Also in the context of the EU, in fact, the principles of direct effect and supremacy that here are taken as illustrative examples of normative supranationality have not been and are not entirely uncontested. See Avbelj M. and Komárek J., Constitutional Pluralism in the European Union and Beyond (2012).

17 Hooge L. and Marks G., Multi-Level Governance and European Integration (2001).

18 This is not to say that the structural supranationality of the EU comes without issues. See, for instance, the criticisms related to the monopoly of the legislative initiative of the EU Commission and to the role of the EU in the rule of law crises recently characterizing some of its member states. See Avbelj M., ‘Pluralism and Systemic Defiance in the European Union’, in Jakab A. and Kochenov D. (eds.), The Enforcement of EU Law and Values: Ensuring Member States’ Compliance (2015), 44 , and Müller J.W.Should the EU Protect Democracy and the Rule of Law Inside Member States?’, (2015) 21 European Law Journal 141 .

19 Vauchez A. and De Witte B., Lawyering Europe: European Law as a Transnational Social Field (2013). Huneeus A., ‘Constitutional Lawyers and the Inter-American Court's Varied Authority’, (2016) 79 Law and Contemporary Problems 179 .

20 Alter K.J. et al., ‘How Context Shapes the Authority of International Courts’, (2016) 79 Law and Contemporary Problems 1 .

21 Ibid., at 6.

22 Ibid., at 6–7.

23 Ibid., at 17–29.

24 Payne A., The Political History of CARICOM (2008).

25 Ibid.

26 1960 General Treaty of Central American Economic Integration, 455UNTS 3 (1963), Art. XXI, available at

27 Brewster H. and Clive Y.T., The Dynamic of West Indian Integration (1967).

28 O'Brien D., ‘CARICOM: Regional Integration in Post-Colonial World’, (2011) 17 European Law Journal 630 .

29 Sánchez Sánchez, supra note 24, at 108.

30 Arts. 13–15 of the Protocol. Available at

32 Ramphal S. et al., Report of the West Indian Commission: Time for Action (1992).

33 Berry D., Caribbean Integration Law (2014); Miranda O., Derecho de la Comunidad Centroamericana (2013).

34 Art. 14 of the Statute of the CACJ. Available at Art. IV of the Agreement Establishing the CCJ. Available at

35 See, 26/62 [1963] and 6/64, [1964] ECR 585.

36 Often, direct applicability is confused with direct effect. Yet, conceptually the two are different. Direct applicability refers to the automatic incorporation of Community law at the national level, while direct effect is concerned with the enforceability of Community law before national judges. See Winter J.A., ‘Direct Applicability and Direct Effect: Two Distinct and Different Concepts in Community Law’, (1972) 9 Common Market Law Review 425 ; Dougan M., ‘When Worlds Collide: Competing Visions of the Relationship between Direct Effect and Supremacy’, (2007) 44 Common Market Law Review 931 .

37 Herrera O.J. Mejía, La Unión Europea Como Modelo de Integración: Análisis Comparativo del Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (2008), 512 .

38 CACJ 09-04-08-1996.

39 CACJ 10-05-11-1996, at considerando I.

40 CACJ 09-04-08-1996. In the specific case, the treaty was the constitutive Treaty of the PARLACEN.

41 CACJ 87-06-08-09-2008.

42 CACJ 105-02-26-03-2010.

43 CACJ 87-06-08-09-2008.

45 TLC v. Guyana [2009] CCJ 1 (OJ) at [32].

46 Mejía Herrera, supra note 37, at 515.

47 Art. 22 of the Protocol.

48 CACJ 03-03-04-1995.

49 CACJ 09-04-08-1996.

50 CACJ 61-03-18-02-2003.

51 CACJ 09-04-08-1996.

52 Art. 211 of the RTC.

53 O'Brien D. and Foadi S., ‘CARICOM and its Court of Justice’, (2008) 37 Common Law World Review 334, at 351. For a similar view, Berry, supra note 33.

54 Interview 5.

55 Myrie v. Barbados, Ruling of 19 March 2013 [2013] CCJ 1 (OJ) and Myrie v. Barbados (‘Myrie judgment’), Judgment of 4 October 2013 [2013] CCJ 3 (OJ).

56 Myrie judgment, supra note 55, at [69].

57 Ibid., at [50], [51], and [52].

58 G. de Búrca and P. Craig, The Evolution of EU Law (2011), 330.

59 Berry, supra note 33.

60 Interviews 5 and 14. See also O'Brien and Foadi, supra note 53. Mejía Herrera, supra note 37.

61 Alter et al., supra note, at 6.

62 Tallberg J., Making States Comply: The European Commission, the European Court of Justice and the Enforcement of the Internal Market (1999).

63 Christoffersen J. and Madsen M.R. (eds.), The European Court of Human Rights between Law and Politics (2011); Goldman, supra note 14.

64 Sánchez Sánchez, supra note 24.

65 Interviews 14 and 15.

66 CACJ 30-10-18-07-2000, at considerando XIV.

67 Interview 12. See also, Miranda, supra note 33.

68 Interviews 2 and 9. See also, Berry, supra note 33.

69 Alter, supra note 2.

70 Judges from Nordic countries are particularly reluctant to enter into a dialogue with the CJEU. See, Rytter J.E. and Wind M., ‘In Need of Juristocracy? The Silence of Denmark in the Development of European Legal Norms’, (2011) 9 International Journal of Constitutional Law 470 .

71 Benvenisti E. and Downs G.W., ‘The premises, assumptions, and implications of Van Gend en Loos: Viewed from the perspectives of democracy and legitimacy of international institutions’, (2014) 25 European Journal of International Law 85 .

72 Huneeus A., ‘Courts Resisting Courts: Lessons from the Inter-American Court's Struggle to Enforce Human Rights’, (2011) 44 Cornell Journal of International Law 493 .

74 Perotti A. D., ‘La Autoridad de la Doctrina de la Corte Centroamericana de Justicia, su Aporte a la Consolidacion del Bloque Regional y la Actitud al Respecto de los Tribunales Constitucionales/Supremos de los Estados Miembros’, in Vidal-Beneyto J. et al. (eds.), Hacia una Corte de Justicia Latinoamericana (2009).

75 Alter, supra note 2, at 94.

76 Lara F.D. Lobo, Conflictos entre Poderes del Estado (2012).

77 See, for instance, Mohammed-Davidson R., ‘Show Me the Money: Enforcing Original Jurisdiction Judgements of the Caribbean Court of Justice’, (2016) 29 Leiden Journal of International Law 113 .

78 Cohen A., ‘Constitutionalism Without Constitution: Transnational Elites Between Political Mobilization and Legal Expertise in the Making of a Constitution for Europe (1940s−1960s)’, (2007) 32 Law and Social Inquiry 109 .

79 Alter, supra note 2.

80 The so-called neo-constitutionalism. Huneeus, supra note 19.

81 The Court rules over inter-state, community law, separation of power between the constitutional organs of the member states, as well as over arbitration and advisory issues. Art. 22 of the Court's Statute.

82 Interviews 11, 12, 16 and 17. In this regard, the literature on the CJEU has repeatedly underscored the importance for the authority of the Luxembourg Court that its decisions are dependent on arguments appearing to be legally, rather than politically reasoned. See, for instance, Gibson J.L. et al., ‘Why Do People Accept Public Policies They Oppose? Testing Legitimacy Theory with a Survey-Based Experiment’, (2005) 58 Political Research Quarterly 187 .

83 Art. 211 of the RTC.

84 See Caserta S. and Madsen M.R., ‘Between Community Law and Common Law: The Rise of the Caribbean Court of Justice at the Intersection of Regional Integration and Post-Colonial Legacies’, (2016) 79 Law and Contemporary Problems 89 .

85 Interviews 2 and 4. See also

86 Most notably, the Faculty of Law of the University of Leon and the American College in Nicaragua, the Central American University in El Salvador, and the University of San Carlos in Guatemala.

87 Interview 10.

88 Interview 4.

89 Interview 7.

90 Interviews 1 and 4. See also, Meeks B. and Lindhal F., New Caribbean Thought: A Reader (2001).

91 Mattli W., The Logic of Regional Integration: Europe and Beyond (1999).

92 Caserta and Madsen, supra note 85.

93 Birdsong L., ‘The Formation of the Caribbean Court of Justice: The Sunset of British Colonial Rule in the English Speaking Caribbean’, (2004–2005) 36 Miami Inter-American Law Review 197 .

94 Attorney General v. Joseph, Judgment of 8 November 2006 [2006] CCJ 3 (AJ).

95 The Maya Leaders Alliance v. Attorney General of Belize, Judgment of 30 October 2015 [2015] CCJ 15 (AJ).

96 To the extent that they triggered several member states (i.e., Dominica and Jamaica) to begin the process of ratification of the appellate jurisdiction of the court.

97 Caserta and Madsen, supra note 85.

98 Hudson M., ‘The Central American Court of Justice’, (1932) American Journal of International Law 759 .

99 Interview 19.

100 Sánchez Sánchez, supra note 24. A. Paine, The Political History of the CARICOM (2008).

101 Interview 18

102 CACJ n. 69-01-03-01-2005.

103 See CACJ 104-01-18-02-2010, 111-07-22-11-2010, and 120-07-07-09-2011.

* Postdoctoral Research Fellow at iCourts – the Centre of Excellence for International Courts, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen; PhD in Law, University of Copenhagen; LL.M., University of California, Berkeley School of Law; MA and BA in Law, University of Roma Tre []. The author wishes to thank Mikael Rask Madsen, Karen J. Alter, Laurence R. Helfer, Shai Dothan, Pola Cebulak, Silvia Adamo, Jed Odermatt, and Marco Rizzi for their insightful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation Grant no. DNRF105 and conducted under the auspices of the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts).

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