iCourts’ first period (2012-2018)

iCourts provided a pioneering study which systematically explored the new role of international courts (ICs) in the global order. The research agenda examined how international courts exemplify a significant change in the mode of producing law across substantive areas of international law, and how they transformed the interface of law and politics. During this period, the Centre explored the legal and socio-political causes of the growing international judicialisation of global governance, from its scattered origins to its contemporary integrating structures by focusing on the institutionalization, autonomisation, and legitimization of ICs:

Institutionalisation:  iCourts explored the forces and dynamics behind the creation and crystallisation of new international judicial institutions and investigated whether these institutions succeed in developing legal and political authority. In particular, iCourts examined the global processes that explain why governments delegate power to international courts,how that authority evolves over time in changing geopolitical contexts, and how it eventually translates  into legal practice. To do so, iCourts mapped the broader transnational movements for international law in the regions and substantive areas of law concerning ICs. More specifically, iCourts endeavoured to understand the groups of actors involved in the creation of specific international courts as well as the "outreach" efforts of specific ICs in building constituencies and support.

Autonomisation: iCourts also investigated how international courts - through various discursive mechanisms such as cross-fertilisation and cross-referencing - build jurisprudential paths to enhance the general legal importance of their decisions. The increased dynamics of international law that ensues from this development seems to have given rise to an international body of legal knowledge marked by common references, concepts, principles, methods of interpretation, and techniques of adjudication specific to international courts. Since international courts operate in a larger legal field and in national and transnational communities of lawyers, the development of international law that is spurred on by the jurisprudential activity of international courts needed to be situated in relation to legal doctrine and the academic reception in legal epistemic communities. Hence, iCourts explored how legal knowledge in this understanding travels between the international courts and from case law to doctrine, and what role the knowledge transfer plays in the development of an international order.

Legitimisation: In recent years, debates over international courts have often turned into heated controversies over the future of democracy with regard to the balance between national legislators and international courts. It is against this background, iCourts explored the legitimisation of international courts by tracing the controversies they cause in law, politics and society. More specifically, iCourts examined ICs’ legitimating measures at three levels of external interface: the legal level (i.e. their interface with other courts in terms of ee.g. jurisdiction and comity); the political level (i.e. their interface with national and international forms of governance in terms of accountability and ‘boundary disputes'); and the societal level (i.e. their interface with civil society in terms of outreach, access and legal entitlements).