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Language, culture, legal traditions and international criminal justice

Bohlander, Michael

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Our view of the world is to a large degree a function of our own language and culture. English has become the lingua franca in international legal academic and practical dialogue, and there is a related concern that English — or its direct descendant, Anglo-American — intellectual and legal culture has drawn a thick veneer over the canvas of international criminal law as well. The differences in linguistic and cultural influence need attention as they are a primary determinant of the dialogue that constitutes international justice, not merely in form but possibly also in substance. The conversation, even in the lingua franca, does not seem to happen with the same intensity from all sides to the exchange, because in addition to the question of ability to engage there seems to be a difference in willingness or interest based not merely on lack of language command, but possibly also on cultural aversion. The main systemic divide in the conversations in international criminal law still lies in the dichotomy between common and civil law, and coinciding with that, between a practical/pragmatic approach on the one hand, and a doctrinal/principled attitude on the other. This article attempts to elaborate on some of the conceptual and cultural differences beyond the superficial labels often used in the discussion, such as ‘adversarial v. inquisitorial’, ‘statute v. judge-made law’ etc., as they may impact on the creation of international criminal law.


Bohlander, M. (2014). Language, culture, legal traditions and international criminal justice. Journal of International Criminal Justice, 12(3), 491-513.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 8, 2014
Online Publication Date Jun 12, 2014
Publication Date Jul 1, 2014
Deposit Date Feb 17, 2014
Publicly Available Date Jun 12, 2016
Journal Journal of International Criminal Justice
Print ISSN 1478-1387
Electronic ISSN 1478-1395
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Issue 3
Pages 491-513


Accepted Journal Article (438 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Journal of International Criminal Justice following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version Bohlander, Michael (2014) 'Language, culture, legal traditions and international criminal justice.', Journal of international criminal justice, 12 (3): 491-513 is available online at:

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