Book Review: Feminist Judgments in International Law

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Feminist Judgments in International Law. Edited by Loveday Hodson & Troy Lavers. Oxford, UK: Hart Publishing, 2019. xix, 511 p. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-50991-445-6 (hardcover) £90.00; ISBN 978-1-50991-443-2 (eBook) £64.80.

Reviewed by Dominique Garingan
Library Manager, Calgary
Parlee McLaws LLP
In CLLR 45:4

In Feminist Judgments in International Law, the editors apply a feminist perspective to the jurisprudence of international law courts, legal norms, and legal principles. Though this may raise questions in those unfamiliar with alternative judgment writing as a form of legal and social protest, the text’s contribution to legal scholarship is found in its commendable job of introducing readers to seminal rulings and decisions from international courts and tribunals and in critically evaluating international law principles through the lenses of feminist perspectives and substantive equality.

Fifteen cases, each featured in its own chapter, represent notable international law cases from the past century adjudicated in superseded or existing law courts and tribunals. The book’s contributing authors serve as jurists in each of the feminist chambers tasked with rewriting the judgments. Their overarching intention is to discuss and present alternative possibilities to structural inequalities found in international law.

The selection of the cases themselves reveals an exploration of the universal applicability of feminist legal reasoning and analysis by examining topics such as reproductive rights, arranged marriages, gender identity, and domestic and sexual violence. Alongside these are fundamental principles of international law, such as the division of public and private law, state responsibility and immunities, international law treaties, state sovereignty, human rights, and international criminal law.

An immediate and noteworthy characteristic of the text is the attention each contributing author gives to the international court or tribunal rendering the decision, in particular the application of the court’s own procedural rules, litigation practices, and judicial history. The text effectually balances historical convention and legal critique while creatively applying feminist thinking to principles such as state autonomy, the binding nature of treaties in international law, and the acknowledgment of individuals in international courts.

Adding context and insight to each judgment are each author’s notes and reflections. The notes cover the historical and contextual underpinnings of original judgments, along with the author’s understanding of what would have been available to a feminist tribunal at the time of the judgment, had one existed. These notes may resonate with readers and legal history enthusiasts by setting the geographic, social, and political stage, as well as identifying, based on evidence, challenges that would have been faced by point-in-time feminist thinkers.

The metacognitive reflections following each judgment are a highlight that allows readers a more personable and sympathetic view of the conflicts faced by each alternative judgment author. Of particular value and pragmatism are those reflections coming to terms with the open-endedness of the social and moral implications afforded by each decision, such as the ones found in the early Bozkurt (1995) and Lockerbie (1988) cases.

A notable achievement of the text is how judgments and reflections endeavour to present alternative legal histories without a reliance on the clarity and judgment associated with hindsight. The absence of precedence on historical, point-in-time works highlighting women’s perspectives led many chambers members to examine the objective purpose and procedural underpinnings of courts and tribunals that may have permitted accommodations of underrepresented views. Examples may be found in the advisory opinion on the Reservations to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which vigilantly deviates from the norm of state-centricity in international treaty law, and in the judgments related to human rights and international criminal law violations, such as the Lubanga (2014) and Karadžić (2016) cases, which emphasize both humanist and survivor-centred approaches in their rulings.

Procedurally minded readers are likely to appreciate the application of feminist principles in the overarching methodological framework of the project. The introspective, academic, and collaborative nature of the writing is superior, with most judgments being acknowledged as communal intellectual works reflecting the ideas and perceptions growing from, yet not being attributed to, each feminist chambers panel member. The journey of the work, from its beginnings as the Feminist International Judgments Project, encompassing the work of legal scholars with common interests, to the current published collection, is admirable. Supplementing the contribution that it makes to feminist legal theory, the work is readily seen as a passion project aimed at illustrating how feminist approaches may encourage departures from historical, and possibly archaic, legal perspectives.

This book is recommended for the collections of academic and judicial libraries and the personal collections of judges, lawyers, students, and legal scholars interested in activism, judicial interpretation, and the pursuit of gender and substantive equality in both national and international courts. Readers will likely benefit from familiarity with the work of the Women’s Court of Canada and other feminist judgment initiatives from around the world and their examinations of the willingness of courts to consider substantive equality in promoting social justice. This book will also be of interest to those seeking a better understanding of how evolving social theories such as relationality, intersectionality, and gender identity inject new and mindful perspectives into the application of the law.

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