The Evolving International Judiciary

43 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2011 Last revised: 1 Sep 2015

See all articles by Karen J. Alter

Karen J. Alter

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science; University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence

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Date Written: June 6, 2011


This article explains the rapid proliferation in international courts first in the post WWII and then the post Cold War era. It examines the larger international judicial complex, showing how developments in one region and domain affect developments in similar and distant regimes. Situating individual developments into their larger context, and showing how change occurs incrementally and slowly over time, allows one to see developments in economic, human rights and war crimes systems as part of a longer term evolutionary process of the creation of international judicial authority. Evolution is not the same as teleology; we see that some international courts develop and change while others stay at in their same role and with the same low level of activity for long periods of time. The evolutionary approach of this article suggests that building judicial authority evolves through practice and takes time, and that the overall international judicial context and developments in parallel institutions shape the development of individual ICs.

Keywords: International Courts & Tribunals, International Regime Complexity, Cold War, Historical Institutionalism

JEL Classification: K30, K33

Suggested Citation

Alter, Karen J., The Evolving International Judiciary (June 6, 2011). Annual Review of Law & Social Science, Forthcoming; Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 11-16; Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 11-50; Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies Working Paper Series No. 11/002. Available at SSRN:

Karen J. Alter (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science ( email )

601 University Place
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence ( email )

Karen Blixens Plads 16
Copenhagen, DK-2300

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