A Common Law of Human Rights?: Transnational Judicial Conversations on Constitutional Rights
Posted: 29 Feb 2008
Date Written: 2000
It is now commonplace in many jurisdictions for judges to refer to the decisions of the courts of foreign jurisdictions when interpreting domestic human rights guarantees. But there has also been a persistent undercurrent of scepticism about this trend, and the emergence of a growing debate about its appropriateness. This issue is of particular relevance in jurisdictions that have relatively recently incorporated human rights provisions that are significantly judicially enforced. In the UK, a reconsideration of the use of comparative judicial decisions in human rights cases is therefore particularly timely. The interpretation of the Human Rights Act 1998 will bring with it the issue of how far British courts will (and/or should) use jurisprudence from other countries in order to help in arriving at decisions on the interpretation of the Act. This article raises for debate, therefore, the meaning and significance of national judges' citation of judgments from other jurisdictions as part of their reasoning in cases with a significant human (or constitutional) rights aspect. Several questions are identified and explored in an attempt to consider various aspects of the general phenomenon. These include empirical questions (how far does it happen, and where?), jurisprudential questions (can we identify criteria that help explain why it does or does not happen?), and normative questions (is it legitimate?). A review of the existing literature is undertaken with a view to determining how far scholars have succeeded in answering these questions. The article concludes that significant gaps exist in our understanding of the phenomenon and raises for discussion the methodologies that may be appropriate for addressing the phenomenon in the future.
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