Mirages of International Justice

Mirages of International Justice

The Elusive Pursuit of a Transnational Legal Order

Matthew Parish

Since the end of the Cold War there has been an explosion of international courts and tribunals that sit apart from domestic legal systems, yet they are often woefully inadequate for their stated purposes. This book explores common problems across these courts, and applies a constructivist theory of international relations to explain their operation.

Chapter 3: Irrelevant Courts for Important Disputes

Matthew Parish

Subjects: law - academic, criminal law and justice, human rights, international economic law, trade law, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights, international politics


The notion that states could resolve their differences judicially found its origins in the Jay Treaty of 1794, in which the United Kingdom and the United States agreed to refer to arbitration before mixed commissions of British and American jurists various questions outstanding from the American War of Independence. The most important of these was the need to settle the boundaries between the United States and British Imperial Canada. The United States and the United Kingdom again referred disputes to arbitration in the 1871 Treaty of Washington. This treaty resulted in the Alabama claims arbitration, in which the United States complained that the United Kingdom had violated its own policy of neutrality in the American Civil War, in selling vessels to the Confederacy. In the face of domestic support for the Union, the United Kingdom agreed to arbitration to maintain friendly relations with Canada’s neighbour; the resulting award of US$15.5 million against the United Kingdom was promptly paid. It is easy now to underestimate the psychological effect this turn of events had upon international lawyers. Although a political fix convenient at the time for the British government, it created the seeds of the idea that an international court could resolve disputes between nations by ordering payment of money, rather than the use of economic sanctions or military force. THE PERMANENT COURT OF ARBITRATION In 1899, the Hague Peace Conference met to draw up a convention on the laws of war. Organised by Czar Nicholas II, the driving force behind...

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