Review Essay

The Judicialization of International Law: Reflections on the Empirical Turn


The proliferation of international courts and tribunals in the last two decades has been an important new development in international law, and the three books under review are at the vanguard in substantiating the claim that the judicialization of international law reflects its deepened legalization. All three have adopted ambitious empirical frameworks through which to assess the impact of international courts, and present valuable insights with respect to the phenomenon. Whilst all seek to make intelligible the growing relevance of the various international courts, their empirical methodology and mapping exercise reflects a faith that the legalization/judicialization of international law is a positive development, one that might nevertheless be contested. With the Oxford Handbook’s mapping exercise, Karen Alter’s ‘altered politics’ model of effectiveness, and Yuval Shany’s ‘goal-based’ method for assessing effectiveness, the three books represent the forefront of scholarly efforts to study the practice of international courts. One should be careful, however: because the empirical exercise attempted in these three books goes beyond mere description into an attempt to model future outcomes, it has the drawback of privileging certain modes of cognizing the phenomenon of the proliferation of international courts. Although an important contribution, a solely empirical approach would create the impression of a purely linear progression in the judicialization of international law, one which might not be borne out in reality.

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