The ‘Gänseliesel’ (Goose Girlis), a historical fountain erected in 1901, represents the most well-known landmark of the city of Goettingen.


Missed Communications and Miscommunications: International Courts, the Fragmentation of International Law and Judicial Dialogue

Francis Maxwell



The increase in the number of international judicial bodies has led to different international courts deciding similar issues of international law. There is the real possibility that these international judicial bodies, not subject to the supervision of a common appeal court, may rule differently on similar questions before them. While this fragmentation of decision-making may undermine the coherency and certainty of the international legal system, it may in some cases be in the interests of the international community, including where divergences in decision-making are the result of specialized regimes or where there is progressive development of the law. So that fragmentation is limited to what is beneficial and necessary for the international community, it is essential that international judicial bodies are in open and structured dialogue with one another. This analysis considers three scenarios of overlapping decision-making, over the course of the lives of two sets of international courts: the International Court of Justice, and the international criminal courts and tribunals. It also considers the recent decision of the International Criminal Court with respect to Palestine and the Court’s refusal to weigh in on questions of general international law, in apparent departure from the previous three examples. It is submitted that these examples demonstrate that insufficient attention is given by these international judicial bodies to the issue of judicial dialogue and its importance. This may undermine the legitimacy of the system and introduce the risks of fragmentation without its benefits.

Keywords: fragmentation, international law, international court, international criminal law, judicial dialogue, customary international law



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