On the Linguistic Design of Multinational Courts — The French Capture

International Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 14, (2016), pp. 498-517

20 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2016 Last revised: 23 Aug 2016

See all articles by Mathilde Cohen

Mathilde Cohen

University of Connecticut - School of Law

Date Written: February 19, 2016

Abstract

This Article discusses the importance of language in the institutional design of European and international courts, which I refer to as “linguistic design.” What is at stake in the choice a court’s official or working language? Picking a language has far-reaching consequences on a court’s composition and internal organizational culture, possibly going as far as influencing the substantive law produced. This is the case because language choices impact the screening of the staff and the manufacture of judicial opinions. Linguistic design imposes costs on non-native speakers forced to use a second (or third) language and confers a set of advantages on native speakers. It has profound implications on judgments as it imports a set of writing conventions that live on even as the institution becomes more cosmopolitan. Using the example of French at the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, and the International Court of Justice, I argue that granting French the status of official language has led French lawyers and French judicial culture to disproportionately influence the courts’ inner workings. This is what I call the “French capture.”

Keywords: Language, international courts, International Court of Justice, Court of Justice of the European Union, European Court of Human Rights, French law and culture, internal organization, judicial selection, clerks

JEL Classification: K33, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Mathilde, On the Linguistic Design of Multinational Courts — The French Capture (February 19, 2016). International Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 14, (2016), pp. 498-517. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2734674 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2734674

Mathilde Cohen (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut - School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States

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