Book Roundtable Examines International Judicial Institutions

Thomas Franck, Richard Goldstone, Patricia Wald, and Phillip Rapoza (from left) were guests for a discussion at Brandeis of The International Judge.

November 12, 2007

A roundtable discussion of the new book The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and Women Who Decide the World's Cases focused on the fragility of international judicial institutions and the challenges and opportunities of the people who serve on them.

The discussion, held November 8 at Brandeis, featured co-authors Daniel Terris, director of the Center, and Leigh Swigart, the Center's director of programs in international justice and society (the third co-author, Cesare P.R. Romano, associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, could not attend). Joining the authors were moderator Anita Hill, professor at the Heller School, and four guests with international judicial experience: Thomas Franck, professor of international law at New York University and former ad hoc judge of the International Court of Justice; Richard Goldstone, retired justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and the first chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; Phillip Rapoza, chief justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court and former chief administrative judge of the Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor; and Patricia Wald, retired judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

In his opening remarks, Terris said the book offers background about international courts and in-depth portraits of their judges, who are establishing a network thanks in part to programs like the Brandeis Institute for International Judges. He noted the impact of the courts, from dispute-resolution bodies that establish rules under which trade and economic agreements are conducted, to criminal courts that forge new realms of law and hold individuals accountable for crime on a mass scale. Yet the courts also contend with insufficient funding and threats from the political environment, he said.

Goldstone concurred, contending that "international justice is all about politics." He noted that national judges don't typically worry about the funding of their courts while international judges do. Indeed, in one example Goldstone provided, judges on the Special Court for Sierra Leone even had to fundraise themselves to support their court.

Rapoza said that the international court on which he served gave judges six-month contracts, causing them to "look over their shoulder" and potentially affecting their decisions. In the end, he said, the courts are only as good as the judges.

"Judges haven't inherited courts of long standing, but they're the builders of the courts they're serving on," he said.

Terris dubbed the judges "reluctant radicals," who create new law but do so out of a temperament that's traditional. Wald noted that those international judges "serve in a sense unanchored" because their courts are not part of a hierarchy, such as national courts have with a supreme court or legislative body. "These [international] courts have an enormous amount of responsibility, because once you're done, you're done," she said.

That responsibility falls on a small number of people, more than 30 of whom are profiled in the book. Only between 200 and 300 people in the world serve on these courts, according to Terris. Franck said that the small number allows international judges as well as those who serve as counsel before the courts to form a peer group, but also leads to criticism. "One of the complaints that people have about the international judicial system," he said, "is that it's like a vast Broadway musical with 30 people playing all the parts."

Swigart pointed to the diversity of the international judiciary, which is composed of judges from many different countries with different languages as well as varied backgrounds, including national judges, diplomats, and law professors. "This heterogeneity could be seen as a weakness, but it also could be a strength," she said.

Panelists debated whether such a heterogeneous group of international judges can be seen as a community. Terris argued that while the judges differ in backgrounds, they share an intellectual bond.

"There is a growing common mindset about approaches to the law … that is helping to ameliorate this problem of divergent views," he said.