International Involvement in Constitution Making

1 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2019 Last revised: 12 Sep 2019

See all articles by Cheryl Saunders

Cheryl Saunders

University of Melbourne - Law School

Date Written: July 4, 2019


International influence is a common feature of constitution making in the 21st century. It comes in a wide variety of forms, involves diverse actors, and applies at multiple points along the spectrum of constitution making, with varying degrees of intensity. The phenomenon is by no means new, although in current conditions of globalisation it may be different in incidence and kind. In at least some forms, international involvement in constitution making is in tension with the theory and practice of constitutions as quintessentially national frameworks for government of a state. A large and growing literature tackles this tension, some defending the nationalist version, but much claiming or assuming the emergence of a new paradigm, whereby national constitutions are an integral part of a global constitutional order. This latter position underpins, whether consciously or not, increasing levels of largely unstructured international involvement in at least some national constitution making projects. This paper explores the tension, from the perspectives of both practice and principle. It argues that neither of the polar positions are persuasive in global terms, necessitating a more coherent framework for the roles and responsibilities of international actors. It suggests that development of the concept of national ownership, sometimes already used rhetorically in connection with international involvement, would be a useful touchstone for the purpose. National ownership for this purpose requires attention to both the process and outcomes of constitution making. From a practical point of view, national ownership has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of constitutions. Emphasis on national ownership also sidesteps at least some of the theoretical problems for legitimacy presented by international involvement although others remain, for resolution either on a global plane or in relation to particular instances of international involvement.

Keywords: constitution making, international

JEL Classification: K19, K39

Suggested Citation

Saunders, Cheryl Anne, International Involvement in Constitution Making (July 4, 2019). U of Melbourne Legal Studies Research Paper No. 839. Available at SSRN: or

Cheryl Anne Saunders (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies 723 Swanston Street (2nd Floor)
Parkville, Victoria 3010
61 3 8344 0753 (Phone)
61 3 8344 9374 (Fax)

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