The New iCourts

The Power of International Courts in the 21th Century

The Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre of Excellence for International Courts and Governance (iCourts) investigates the causes and effects of the growing number of international courts (ICs) across the world. The original iCourts focused on the empirical processes related to the creation of ICs. The new iCourts enlarges the perspective and asks the converse and more demanding question: what kind of world are these many courts helping to create? More specifically, what is the real power of ICs with regard to law, politics and society? And what are the consequences of international judicialisation for the contemporary world?

The research plan for the new iCourts manifests a significant evolution of the centre and a new direction for its research that is deeply international. At its core, this research plan will: 1) Develop novel conceptual and theoretical tools to explain the power of ICs; 2) Apply these new methods to assess the variable influence of ICs on law, society and politics; 3) Evaluate the effects of international judicialisation in the contemporary world and its broader implications for law, politics and society.

Our research is carried out in successive stages, using both new and existing empirical sites and partners. We will strengthen the centre’s international profile and relationships with key stakeholders by: 

  • Partnering with leading scholars to create a series of large collaborative flagship projects.
  • Organising a new format of research-related conferences in Europe, Africa, and Latin America to facilitate participation of local stakeholders and enable a deeper investigation of legal and political processes on both the domestic and regional level.
  • Devising a comprehensive communication strategy that integrates our existing platforms – Twitter, webpage, working papers, public talks, and publications – into a central digital information hub that, in addition, provides access to case law, databases, course syllabi, and an easily searchable wiki bibliography of the ever-growing body of IC-related research.

Specific Research Objectives

Since 2012, iCourts has contributed to transforming the scholarly and practical understanding of international courts (ICs) at both the global and regional level. By developing and applying novel theoretical and methodological tools and providing the first systematic, comparative, and empirical analysis of the creation and evolution of a growing number of ICs throughout the world, iCourts has generated new ways to investigate and explain the operation and authority of ICs across the globe. The new iCourts will propel this research forward by focusing on the practical impact of international judicialisation. What remains underexplored, and to some extent effectively unknown, is the actual power of ICs; that is, the extent to which these courts do or do not impact, alter or transform law, politics and society within and beyond their spheres of operation.

The new iCourts will explore where, when, whether, and how ICs have real-world effects on law, politics, and society at the global, regional, and national levels. We will develop novel theoretical and empirical methods to assess the power and limits of ICs on:

  • Law: how ICs impact, alter or transform legal practices, substantively and procedurally. For example, we will examine how ICs create new cognitive frames, principles and values, and whether or how these innovations change legal practices at the global, regional and national levels;
  • Politics: how ICs impact, alter or transform political processes and outcomes. For example, we will investigate how a range of actors make use of ICs – directly and indirectly – and whether and how such actions generate new interests and preferences at the global, regional and national levels; and
  • Society: how ICs impact, alter or transform society and social practices. For example, we will analyse how ICs influence state, group and citizen relationships, and whether and how they help to generate new rights, duties and processes at the global, regional and national levels.

We are interested in the effects of ICs within and across these three domains. Our aim is to collectively explore their comparative and combined effects in order to better understand the power and limits of ICs today. This new objective fundamentally reorients iCourts’ research, shifting from the study of the making of ICs to the study of the world that ICs make. This new research objective is made possible by the previous research agenda which has put international judicial institutions around the world ‘on the map’ in ways that did not previously exist.