Workshop on The Political and Legal Theory of International Courts and Tribunals

Illustration photo of the International Court of Justice.


PluriCourts at the University of Oslo is organising a workshop June 20-21, 2022 to bring together scholars of philosophy, legal theory, and political theory who study regional and international courts and tribunals (ICs), and in particular issues surrounding legitimacy and adjudication.

States have established a variety of regional and international ICs to adjudicate disputes through interpretation and application of international law by legal methods. These ICs cover a range of issues, including human rights, trade, investment, border disputes, and international crimes. ICs’ competences, level of authority, method of interpretation, and geographical reach vary widely. 

The proliferation of ICs has coincided with resistance to their growing impact and charges of illegitimacy. Such charges are directed both at the methodologies and the outputs of ICs. In the pursuit of real and effective human rights protection, for instance, ICs are criticised for employing teleological methods of interpretation that broaden the scope of state duties at the expense of national autonomy. In populist critiques, particularly, the court-driven development of international law is portrayed as an inflationary process with few to no braking mechanisms. 

Such criticism, and possible responses, must be anchored in a theory of interpretation – a particular understanding of the features of adjudication and the powers and liberties that judges are exercising during judicial review. However, the conceptual premises of legitimacy criticisms are rarely spelled out, nor is it obvious that critiques from different sources and targeted at different aspects of IC activity are founded on the same understanding of the process of adjudication.


We invite papers from any discipline that fall within the broad theme of the conference. This workshop welcomes, in particular, papers that contribute to our conceptual understanding of IC adjudication, whether this is developed in terms of more abstract legal theory or in the context of concrete case studies. Potential topics for the workshop could be, but are by no means limited to, the following questions:

  • According to what conceptual and normative standards can we sort and evaluate legitimacy criticisms against ICs?
  • Are there distinct accounts of IC adjudication which are more or less conducive to bolstering the legitimacy of ICs? How unconstrained are international judges in fact?
  • To what extent can adjudication be expressed as the exercise of rights and observance of duties? What alternatives are there to right-based accounts?
  • Can and should ICs seek to unify behind a common conception of adjudication and judicial review? How does such a conception relate to the task of interpreting and developing international law?
  • Can accounts of adjudication and legitimacy shed light on the tendency for legitimacy criticisms to be particularly pronounced in cases regarding positive state duties? 
  • How do legitimacy criticisms and alternative theories of adjudication relate to the justifications of ICs?
  • What measures can ICs take to shield themselves from legitimacy criticisms? Is there any real discretion to be exercised in the choice of methods of interpretation?
  • As mechanisms for addressing legitimacy criticisms, how does judicial restraint relate to flexibility in methods of interpretation?
  • What are the tensions between the tasks and the judicial tools assigned to ICs, and how should they be resolved?
  • How does deep disagreement over values affect criticism of ICs and their methods?


The deadline for submission of abstracts was January 1, 2022.


  • January 1, 2022 Expression of interest with provisional paper title and max 400 word abstract 
  • February 8, 2022 Decisions on acceptance of proposals
  • May 30, 2022 Draft papers due
  • June 20–21, 2022 Workshop


PluriCourts will cover meals for all invited paper presenters. We request that those who are invited use own funds for travel and hotel. PluriCourts will be able to provide some funds for travel or hotel, details on request. 


For more information about the workshop, please contact: 
Johan Vorland Wibye 
Mahalet Tadesse


PluriCourts is a multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence whose overriding research objective is to analyse and assess the legitimate present and future roles of the international judiciary in the global legal order. 

Published Dec. 6, 2021 8:50 AM - Last modified Jan. 7, 2022 6:18 PM