08 March 2012

The first Danish basic research centre in law opens


A new basic research centre in law at the University of Copenhagen has been established to study the growth of international courts and their influence on the transformation of law and politics.

The centre aims to investigate international courts, both because they illustrate recent global developments of law, and because they allow us to explore more generally the foundational elements of law. With the introduction of international courts as well as an international legal order we can observe how the founding stones of law are laid again, says Professor Mikael Rask Madsen, the principal investigator from the Centre of Excellence for International Courts, iCourts. iCourts received a grant of 42 million Danish kroner from the Danish National Research Foundation and is, thus, the first basic research centre at the Faculty of Law at the University of Copenhagen:

“The grant from the Danish National Research Foundation is intended to ensure that we can participate in the highest echelon of international research. Eventually, the centre will be able to strengthen the Faculty's ability to attract internationally recognised researchers, young talented postdocs and PhD students from all over the world,” says Henrik Dam, Dean of the Faculty of Law.

Increasing number of international courts

The number of international courts is clearly growing. According to Mikael Rask Madsen, it is a trend, among other things, which reflects the path towards an emerging global society:

“Global exchanges in the areas of economy, culture and communication, challenge the sovereign authority of the state and thereby the traditional anchoring of law in the nation-state. International courts are often established as institutions to restore order at the supranational level. Therefore, one can in many ways view the growth of international courts as an attempt to recreate the (legal) order in an increasingly globalised society.”

An example is the EU, which was first established as the Coal and Steel Community, but today has evolved into a comprehensive regulation of the economy in Europe where the Court of Justice of the EU is playing a key role. Similarly, the emergence of international human rights courts have dramatically changed our understanding of human rights and states’ practices in the area.

Global crises create courts

One of the main theses of the centre’s research is that major geopolitical changes and crises create 'windows of opportunity' for the implementation of major international reforms. According to Mikael Rask Madsen, many international courts emerged precisely in the aftermath of the Second World War and after the end of the Cold War. Looking at the world map, a clear pattern appears; international courts are located almost exclusively in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

“It's most likely not a coincidence that international courts are found primarily in the areas once colonised by European powers and where the European legal culture has thus left its imprint. Today, it is however the European model of international law and courts that has developed under the auspices of the EU and Council of Europe which is spreading. The primary reason for this is probably that ’it seems to work’. If the objective was to end war among the major European powers, the project has succeeded. If the objective was to ensure that European economies did not collapse completely after the Second World War, the project succeeded as well - at least until recently,” says Mikael Rask Madsen.

The Need for Diplomacy

According to Mikael Rask Madsen, it is somewhat of a miracle that international courts actually work:

“They are deeply dependent on the Member States, which ultimately always can decide to withdraw from an international agreement. Therefore, international courts need a high level of diplomacy - they must continually legitimise themselves, both in regards to governments and citizens. This, in turn, leads us directly to the essential focus of the research centre: It will investigate how the courts legitimise and institutionalise themselves - and how they create independence, both as institutions and through the legal work related to the creation of a corpus juris in the form of case law and legal principles,” explains Mikael Rask Madsen.

Opening Reception

The Fundamental Research Centre of Excellence for International Courts, iCourts, will be launched with an opening reception on 12 March at 2:30 to 5:00 p.m.

Read more about iCourts


Professor Mikael Rask Madsen
Centre of iCourts, Faculty of Law
Tel.: +45 35 32 31 99
Mobile: +45 24 80 55 57

Communications Officer
Nina Højsteen
Tel. +45 35 32 40 05