Global Research Bytes: Judicial Diplomacy and Comparativism in Latin American Legal Systems


Global Research Bytes: Judicial Diplomacy and Comparativism in Latin American Legal Systems

Jeronimo Lau Alberdi Headshot
Transcript of Interview with S.J.D. Candidate Jeronimo Lau Alberdi

Emily Mellen  0:06  
Welcome to Global Research Bytes. I'm Emily Mellen and I'm here with Jeronimo Lau Alberdi, a Doctor of Juridical Science candidate in the School of Law. Jeronimo, you're currently working on a CGII-funded project entitled "Courts Without Borders: Judicial Diplomacy and Comparativism in Latin America." Could you tell us about judicial diplomacy and comparativism and how these ideas play a part in your work?

Jeronimo Lau Alberdi  0:30  
Of course. Think of courts as if they were students from different countries coming together for a potluck. They bring dishes from their own countries, they share recipes, discuss cooking techniques, and sometimes borrow ingredients or sometimes entire dishes to improve their own cooking back home. This sharing and learning from each other is pretty similar to what happens inside a court. Judicial diplomacy happens when courts interact on an international level. Judges don't work in isolation. They attend conferences and global meetings. They even translate their own court decisions into other languages. And they look also at foreign laws for reference. It's basically strategy. This helps courts strengthen their international role, influence lawmaking at home and in other countries, and establish themselves as legal experts, much like a nation boosts its own global image through its culture and governance. On the other side, cooperativism is when courts look at how legal problems are handled in other countries. They don't just copy solutions, it is not that, they are borrowing solutions from other countries and applying them in their own legal systems. If not, sometimes they critique them. Sometimes they try to take those ideas from other countries in order to improve their own legal decisions, their own legal opinions. It's not just making one single global legal system super homogenous, but rather enhancing legal thinking by considering other legal cultures that are outside. Latin America itself is a region that has, luckily, no international wars, no international conflicts, but it's a region with a lot of inequality, a lot of crime, and political instability. The courts in this region are also participating in the global legal conversation. The courts here share their own insights, which helps also a lot to improve or enhance the field of justice and governance. Take, for example, the Constitutional Court of Colombia. This is perhaps one of the most activist courts in the world. They have legalized small amounts of drugs for personal use. They have allowed abortion, in some cases, and they also supported gay marriage rights, even before the Supreme Court of the US had even considered it. The Supreme Court of Argentina is also an example. I did a FOIA request, that is like a Freedom of Information Act request, to gather some data and information. And in this request, I realized, or I found, that the justices from Argentina had met at least three times in the last 15 years with other justices from the Supreme Court of the US and from the Supreme Court of South Korea, and even in fewer occasions with Supreme Court justices from the region, from Latin America, from Paraguay, Bolivia, Panama, and other countries, but considering that they were engaging in discussions, personal connections, as it's called in the literature, to judge dialogue with Supreme Court Justices of the US and South Korea, I think that's very interesting to consider.

Emily Mellen  4:00  
How does comparativism, as you are describing, influence Latin American court decisions? And what impact does this have on international legal collaboration and regional diplomacy?

Jeronimo Lau Alberdi  4:11  
That's a great question. Comparativism shapes the way Latin American courts make decisions by having the judges look at how legal issues are handled in other countries. This practice is particularly interesting in Latin American courts due to its own cultural, political and historical context. Supreme and constitutional courts in Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, often look to decisions made by the US Supreme Court, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the European Court of Human Rights. Professors David Law and Mila Versteeg, from the University of Virginia, suggest that adopting constitutional concepts from abroad can help smaller or less influential states gain international acceptance and boost their legitimacy or credibility or public support. It's not only about better legal arguments, but also enhancing their status on the world stage. This is a form of judicial diplomacy, where courts extend their influence beyond their own country, contributing to a global legal knowledge. Education is super important. Education in law in Latin America focus more on international human rights, if you compare education with the US, where there are few courses in which they train the law students in international law. In Latin American countries, in the past 20 years, it became a common trend to train and educate law students in international human rights. And that's also very influential, because those students that are educated in their own countries, they are more connected to what's going on around the world.

Emily Mellen  6:04  
How did you become interested in this topic?

Jeronimo Lau Alberdi  6:07  
That's a great question. You know, since I was in law school, I was always interested in Supreme Courts, how they decide what's going on, beyond the opinions. I was never satisfied by reading the opinions. I had a great mentors in Argentina. I can mention a couple: Alfonso Santiago, Manuel García-Mansilla Gregorio Badeni. Those were great influences. They all had important research fields, studying the Supreme Court in Argentina and internationally. But it was one day that I was talking to my supervisor, Professor David Law, who has done amazing research on this topic, specifically focusing in East Asia, that he told me, "Why don't you study what's going on in Latin America?" Latin America is an underrepresented region. No one is looking at what's going on, and if there are some legal scholars, they're just focusing on their own jurisdictions, because of course, it's what they know. So I said, why don't I put all the literature that has been written, in Europe and in the US, and try to engage with that conversation and study Latin American courts. I think this is a significant contribution to the literature. No one has studied this before in the way that other authors have done the same with other regions. So, of course, legal mentors, like having great mentors, like the ones that I mentioned, and being in the right place at the right moment. That's my answer. Yeah.

Emily Mellen  7:43  
Being in the right place at the right time means a lot. So, what are your next steps in this research project?

Jeronimo Lau Alberdi  7:48  
Fieldwork and interviews. I have selected a couple of jurisdictions to look at in Latin America. I have to do a lot of interviews with current justices from those courts, from constitutional courts and from Supreme Courts, and also with clerks. So, I have a lot of work to do. 

Emily Mellen  8:07  
Well, good luck. We look forward to hearing how it goes. Thank you.

Jeronimo Lau Alberdi  8:10  
Thank you.