Competition and Control in International Adjudication
My thanks to Opinio Juris for hosting this online symposium, to the Virginia Journal of International Law for publishing my essay Competition and Control in International Adjudication, and especially to Monica Hakimi and Larry Helfer for commenting.
The essay takes issue with the standard view among international law and international relations scholars that States have sufficient and effective tools to constrain international courts. Like international organizations generally, international courts have minds and interests of their own. As a result, they can be tempted to expand their powers beyond those provided for in their mandates or by informal expectations. At the same time, international courts are protected from external control because of the principle of judicial independence and because of structural constraints on international lawmaking and institutional reform. This combination of weak external control and imperfect self-control provides international courts with opportunities to exceed their mandates. It also makes States more likely not to consent ex ante to the jurisdiction of international courts, to withdraw from the jurisdiction of courts to which jurisdiction they had previously consented, and to disobey judicial decisions. In other words, weak judicial control mechanisms create weak dispute resolution mechanisms. This is not optimal, as the international system needs greater not fewer opportunities for peaceful dispute settlement. In order to strengthen international courts, I argue that we need to think anew about how best to maintain control over them. The answer, though, is not, as some would have it, to decrease judicial independence by increasing direct State control. Instead, the essay argues that increasing competition among international courts will more effectively constrain international judicial power and, consequently, increase the likelihood that States will recognize and accede to international judicial authority. Competition among courts will also lead to better – and perhaps even convergent – decisions. Therefore, in contrast to the received wisdom that international courts, as they proliferate, should be more respectful and deferential to each other, the essay claims that such system-protective doctrines are counterproductive. Instead of striving for uniformity, we should accept and develop a system of competitive adjudication in international law.
As befits an essay, this conclusion is meant to be as much thought-provoking as definitive. And, indeed, it is too early to know for certain if the approach I recommend will succeed, or whether the necessary competitive conditions are unattainable. That said, it appears that judges and arbitrators are beginning to respond (in desirable, though not always perfect, ways) to the existing competition in international adjudication. While there are potential hazards here, which we might discuss, I do believe that, where controls on courts and judges are ineffective, encouraging competition is an idea worth pursuing.