Dissent and Legitimacy in International Criminal Law

67 Pages Posted: 11 May 2022 Last revised: 30 Mar 2023

Date Written: May 6, 2022


Throughout history, dissenting opinions have been subject to soaring praise as well as vitriolic criticism. Although some commentators nominally acknowledge that the normative value of dissenting opinions necessarily varies depending on the unique context in which the relevant court operates, in fact we see the same arguments advanced to support or oppose dissenting opinions, regardless of the court in which those opinions appear. Dissents are particularly prevalent in international criminal courts—those courts established to prosecute the worst crimes known to humankind: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Although dissents in these courts have garnered little scholarly attention, the few normative arguments that have been made track those that have been advanced for decades in the United States and other judicial systems. In a previous work, I launched a comprehensive empirical and normative analysis of separate opinions in international criminal law. Whereas my earlier scholarship laid the groundwork and evaluated certain alleged benefits of separate opinions, this article begins by empirically assessing their costs. The article then evaluates the primary normative claim made in support of separate opinions both domestically and internationally: that they enhance the legitimacy of the court and its opinions. These examinations reveal that previous commentators have employed one-size-fits-all analyses that fail to take account of the unique features of international criminal courts and mass atrocity trials. These features complicate the relationship between separate opinions and legitimacy, but the quantitative and qualitative evidence combined strongly suggest that separate opinions are likely to delegitimize an already fragile, vulnerable criminal justice system.

Keywords: dissent, international criminal law, ICTY, ICC, SCSL, legitimacy

Suggested Citation

Combs, Nancy, Dissent and Legitimacy in International Criminal Law (May 6, 2022). 57 Wake Forest Law Review 1061 (2023), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4102115

Nancy Combs (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

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P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
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757-221-3830 (Phone)

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