Jurisdiction - International and Municipal Law

International and Municipal Law

The standard treaties and conventions leave the issue of implementation to each state, i.e. there is no general rule in international law that treaties have direct effect in municipal law, but some states, by virtue of their membership of supranational bodies, allow the direct incorporation of rights or enact legislation to honor their international commitments. Hence, citizens in those states can invoke the jurisdiction of local courts to enforce rights granted under international law wherever there is incorporation. If there is no direct effect or legislation, there are two theories to justify the courts incorporating international into municipal law:

  • Monism
This theory characterizes international and municipal law as a single legal system with municipal law subordinate to international law. Hence, in the Netherlands, all treaties and the orders of international organizations are effective without any action being required to convert international into municipal law. This has an interesting consequence because treaties that limit or extend the powers of the Dutch government are automatically considered a part of their constitutional law, for example, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In states adopting this theory, the local courts automatically accept jurisdiction to adjudicate on lawsuits relying on international law principles.
  • Dualism
This theory regards international and municipal law as separate systems so that the municipal courts can only apply international law either when it has been incorporated into municipal law or when the courts incorporate international law on their own motion. In the United Kingdom, for example, a treaty is not effective until it has been incorporated at which time it becomes enforceable in the courts by any private citizen, where appropriate, even against the UK Government. Otherwise the courts have a discretion to apply international law where it does not conflict with statute or the common law. The constitutional principle of parliamentary supremacy permits the legislature to enact any law inconsistent with any international treaty obligations even though the government is a signatory to those treaties.

In the United States, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution makes all treaties that have been ratified under the authority of the United States and customary international law, …the "Supreme Law of the Land" (U.S. Const.art. VI Cl. 2) and, as such, the law of the land is binding on the federal government as well as on state and local governments. According to the Supreme Court of the United States, the treaty power authorizes Congress to legislate under the Necessary and Proper Clause in areas beyond those specifically conferred on Congress (Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920)).

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