The Normative Legitimacy of International Courts

47 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2012 Last revised: 23 Jan 2014

See all articles by Nienke Grossman

Nienke Grossman

University of Baltimore - School of Law

Date Written: December 5, 2012


This Article’s objective is to spark discussion about the standards by which we judge international courts. Traditional justifications for the authority of international courts are based on outmoded assumptions of their role and impact. State consent and procedural fairness to litigants are insufficient to ground the legitimacy of institutions that may adjudicate the international rights and duties of nonlitigants, deeply affect the interests of nonlitigating stakeholders, and shape the law prospectively. These realities mandate a new approach to the legitimacy of international courts. This Article presents alternative or additional approaches for justifying the authority of international courts rooted in both procedure and substance. First, legitimacy requires a reimagining of procedural fairness to include those whose international rights and duties are being adjudicated by international courts. Democratic theory can help to justify the authority of international courts so long as stakeholders are given the opportunity to participate in the formulation of policies that affect them. In addition, international courts must adhere to certain universal standards of justice. They cannot facilitate the violation of a set of core norms, including prohibitions against torture, slavery, racial discrimination, and genocide, and still retain their legitimacy. Finally, the extent to which an international court implements the objectives it was created for also affects its legitimacy.

Keywords: international courts, legitimacy, adjudication, international legal theory

Suggested Citation

Grossman, Nienke, The Normative Legitimacy of International Courts (December 5, 2012). Temple Law Review, Vol. 86, 2013; University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-03. Available at SSRN: or

Nienke Grossman (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, 21218
United States

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