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General Principles and Comparative Law

Jaye Ellis

McGill University - Faculty of Law


European Journal of International Law, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2011

This article explores the source ‘general principles of international law’ from the point of view of comparative law scholarship. The currently accepted definition of general principles and methodology for identifying such principles are critiqued. The criterion of the representativeness of the major families of legal systems, to which courts and tribunals tend to pay lip service rather than applying rigorously, is meant to anchor general principles in state consent, but is not a sound technique either for identifying principles of relevance to international law or for preventing judges from referring only to the legal systems they know best. Furthermore, the emphasis on extracting the essence of rules results in leaving behind most of what is interesting and useful in what judges may have learned by studying municipal legal systems. Comparative scholarship is an obvious, rich, and strangely neglected source of guidance for international judges who wish to draw insights from legal systems outside international law.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 23

Keywords: public international law, general principles, comparative law, sources doctrine

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Date posted: January 10, 2013 ; Last revised: May 17, 2016

Suggested Citation

Ellis, Jaye, General Principles and Comparative Law (2011). European Journal of International Law, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2196949

Contact Information

Jaye Ellis (Contact Author)
McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )
3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec
514 398 6625 (Phone)
514 398 3233 (Fax)
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