Decisions of International Courts: Following Precedents or Consistent Jurisprudence?

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Authors: Sergei Manzhosov, Sergey Belov

DOI: 10.21128/2226-2059-2020-4-3-21

Keywords: judicial precedent; jurisprudence constante; legal certainty; stare decisis


The contemporary international law doctrine is critical to the notion of binding force of general positions of international courts. The grounds for this critics is more weighty in international law than in domestic law. If in the latter general binding force of judicial decisions erga omnes questions the separation of powers, in the former the states as the main actors of the international relations try to participate and control any norm-making. At the same time international courts realize the necessity of consistency of interpretation and applying of legal norms and principles, as unpredictable decisions breach the certainty of law. These courts demonstrate surprising uniformity of approaches to this issue, disregarding their status, legal grounds for their jurisdiction, the nature of the cases they consider. The courts recognize their duty to follow the sustainable interpretation of international law, as it appears in the own practice of these courts and other international authorities, because this is crucial for the definiteness of legal regulation, predictability of judicial decisions and consistency of legal solutions. The international courts reject following precedents according to the stare decisis rule and are very caution to declare following the concept of jurisprudence constant, trying to be equidistant to particular legal traditions. The legal acts regulating the international justice favour this caution, as they establish the binding force of judicial decisions only inter partes and within concrete case. In a case of need to deviate from the established practice both the International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court, European Court of Human Rights and international investment arbitration tribunals tend to (1) appeal to formal arguments of non-binding force of previous decisions, or (2) argue the differences of considering case with preceding cases, or (3) base on notions developed in their practice – e.g., the idea of “European consensus” in the practice of the European Court of Human Rights.

About the authors: Sergey Belov – Candidate of law (Ph.D.), Associate Professor of Constitutional Law, Chair of Constitutional Law Department, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Saint-Petersburg State University, Saint-Petersburg, Russia; Sergey Manzhosov – Assistant Professor of Constitutional Law, Saint-Petersburg State University, Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

Citation: Belov S., Manzhosov S. (2020) Resheniya mezhdunarodnykh sudov: sledovanie pretsedentu ili posledovatel'naya praktika? [Decisions of International Courts: Following Precedents or Consistent Jurisprudence?]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, vol.10, no.4, pp.3–21. (In Russian).


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