Identity and Diversity on the Bench: Implications for the Legitimacy of International Adjudication

PluriCourts Lunch Seminar with Freya Baetens.

Given the proliferation and growing prominence of international courts and tribunals over the past few decades, particular attention should be paid to those who hold the power decide questions involving sovereignty over territory, grave human rights violations, international crimes, or millions of dollars’ worth of economic interests. The identity of judges and arbitrators, the faces (and drivers) of the adjudicatory process, has significant implications for the legitimacy – and thus the functioning – of courts and tribunals. At the most basic level, requirements pertaining not only to individual judges’ qualifications, but also their high moral standing, integrity, and independence, for instance, are routinely laid down in courts’ statutes. But individual identity is also closely connected to the question of diversity among judges as a collective on a given bench. After all, if international law is to be truly international, it is reasonable to expect that the persons deciding on the intricacies of its interpretation and application should reflect the diversity of humankind’s experiences.

Against this backdrop, this lecture reflects some of the results of an interdisciplinary research project conducted by Freya Baetens over the course of 2018, aiming to provide a more comprehensive and in-depth look at the impact of identity on (the legitimacy of) international adjudication. First of all, the project examined a range of factors that form part of a person’s identity – such as gender, religion, ethnicity, geographical region, legal culture. Secondly, these factors were analysed across a broad cross-section of international adjudicatory bodies, both permanent and ad hoc. Thirdly, the project went beyond merely identifying (the lack of) diversity in judicial and arbitral appointments. Instead, it also investigated the implications of identity in greater detail through various stages, examining the prior experiences of judges and arbitrators leading them to the bench; their behaviour on the bench, including their influence on the adjudicatory process and on the court or tribunal as a collective; as well as the legacy of their appointments and their post-judicial/post-arbitral careers.


PluriCourt Seminars are a forum for pluridisciplinary discussion of core issues relating to international courts and tribunals. PluriCourts scholars or invited speakers present new and ongoing research or comment on current questions. The seminars are open to everyone.

Tags: Legitimacy
Published Sep. 20, 2018 9:13 AM - Last modified Aug. 21, 2019 3:12 PM