Authority in International Law

KFG Working Paper Series, No. 22, Berlin Potsdam Research Group 'The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?'

21 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2018

Date Written: November 2018


The author discusses the question of authority when determining the content of an international legal rule. Taking Article 38(1)(d) of the ICJ Statute as a point of departure, he determines through meticolous analysis what ranks as judicial decisions as well as teachings within the meaning of the norm. The author then proceeds to a number of factors to determine authoritativeness: objectivity, knowledgeability, depth of analysis, and the presence or otherwise of reasoning and, in particular, the persuasiveness of an opinion. In the case of judicial pronouncements, the author points out that the paradox between Article 59 and Article 38(1)(d) of the ICJ Statute is only an apparent one. While judgments of the Court are binding only between the parties, it is merely the underlying reasoning that can be taken into account in the context of Article 38(1)(d) if considered persuasive. Without central authority, authoritativenes in international law must always be earned which is also the reason for the lack of an hierarchical order between as well as within judicial pronouncements and learned writings though the former are usually more likely to fulfil the criteria of authoritativeness. In both cases, however, previously acquired reputation of a court or even an individual judge as well as of a learned writer can create a presumption of authoritativeness. On a more general level, the author concludes with a call for a more careful differentiation between the determination of law and its application. Putting the issue discussed into perspective, the author argues that situations of law determination arise, contrary to common understanding, in fact far less often than situations of law application.

Suggested Citation

Berman, Franklin, Authority in International Law (November 2018). KFG Working Paper Series, No. 22, Berlin Potsdam Research Group 'The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?', Available at SSRN: or

Franklin Berman (Contact Author)

Essex Court Chambers

24 Lincoln's Inn Fields
London, WC2A 3EG
United Kingdom

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