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Governance of international courts and tribunals

Ensuring Judicial Independence and Accountability

Project description

The role, functioning and jurisprudence of international courts and tribunals have been examined in minute detail in international legal scholarship. By contrast, the legal and institutional arrangements states and international organisations have employed to perform governance vis-à-vis international adjudicatory bodies have received only scant attention so far.

The notion of ‘judicial governance’ encompasses a broad range of ‘parenting’ and oversight functions exercised by external executive and political entities with regard to international courts – the functions which have critical importance for their existence and proper operation of international courts. These include, most notably, the adoption of legal frameworks for the establishment, operation, and closure of courts; putting in place their institutional structures and reviewing performance; electing and/or appointing court judges and other officials; securing adequate funding, approving court budgets, and carrying out financial audit; providing courts with management oversight; ensuring compliance with and enforcement of judicial decisions; providing political backing and other forms of support.

International courts are increasingly confronted with legitimacy critiques and challenges to their authority from states and other actors. To the extent that the courts’ alleged underperformance is rooted in the failures by the governance entities to perform their role properly, the critiques aim at the wrong target. Against this backdrop, the International Judicial Governance project examines the legal status, competences, and practice of the institutions governing international courts of general and specialist jurisdiction, regional integration and human rights courts, and international and hybrid criminal tribunals. Based on the critical review of the experience of judicial governance and lessons learnt from different contexts, it seeks to identify and articulate the legal standards and operational protocols which (should) inform and constrain the functioning of those institutions.

Has the operation of judicial governance institutions in practice compromised the principle of (institutional) judicial independence and how is one to see a legitimate intervention from undue interference by a governing body in the workings of a court? How should the relationship between courts and their parent and oversight bodies be (re)configured in order to avoid micro-management while at the same time ensuring competent and effective governance? What mechanisms do there exist to induce and ensure compliance by states, international organisations, and other entities with their obligations and ‘best practices’ in the sphere of international judicial governance?


Since January 2019

ACIL contact person

  • Sergey Vasiliev

Associated PhD projects

  • Maria Manolescu, ‘Costs of International Justice: The Financing of International Courts and Tribunals’ (Leiden University)
  • Kritika Sharma, ‘Walking the Line of Accountability and Independence: Governance of the International Criminal Court by the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute’ (Leiden University)
  • Michael Ramsden, ‘Uniting Against Impunity: Actual and Potential UN Plenary Activism to Close the Impunity Gap’ (Leiden University)

We are welcoming (external) PhD proposals on the topic


  • Niels Blokker, Leiden University
  • Open Society Justice Initiative

We will consider proposals for cooperation from states, organisations, NGOs and individuals

Past and future events

  • Inaugural conference “Governance of International Courts and Tribunals: Ensuring Judicial Independence and Accountability”, co-organised by ACIL, Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies and the Europa Institute at Leiden University, 20-21 September 2019 (see description, programme and news item)
  • (planned) two-day expert seminar on the structure and practice of the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, April 2020


  • ICC independent expert review process (2020)


  • Sergey Vasiliev, ‘Judicial Governance Entities as Power-Holders in International Criminal Justice: A Plea for a Socio-Legal Enquiry’ in Morten Bergsmo et al. (eds), Power in International Criminal Justice: Towards a Sociology of International Justice (Oslo: TOAEP, 2020)
  • Niels Blokker and Sergey Vasiliev (eds), Governance of International Courts and Tribunals: Ensuring Judicial Independence and Accountability (in progress)
Dr S.V. (Sergey) Vasiliev

Assistant Professor