Associate Fellow, International Law

While courts in common law countries accept statements by the executive branch as conclusive evidence on certain matters in international affairs, this must be kept within clear limits. It is for courts, not governments, to determine the law.

The Royal Courts of Justice. Photo Credit: Jonathan McManus/Getty ImagesThe Royal Courts of Justice. Photo Credit: Jonathan McManus/Getty Images

Summary

  • National courts in the United Kingdom and other countries frequently have to consider issues of foreign relations and international law.
  • Courts in common law countries accept statements by the executive branch as conclusive evidence on certain matters in international affairs, such as recognition of states and governments.
  • The important function of the executive in giving these conclusive statements must be kept within clear limits. It is for courts, not governments, to determine the law.
  • Litigants have a right to have their claims decided, but states have a legitimate interest in securing court decisions that do not prejudice the effective and peaceful conduct of international relations.
  • An overly controlling approach by the executive risks destroying the relationship of trust between judiciary and government, and, in some areas, may also leave the latter more susceptible to human rights claims and to diplomatic and political pressure from foreign governments and commercial interests.