The Role of Principles and General Principles in the ‘Constitutional Processes’ of International Law

Craig Eggett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The fundamental elements of the international legal system remain subject to debate. Constitutionalism is merely the latest instalment of this continuing conversation on the very nature of international law. In this context certain foundational aspects may be labelled as the system’s ‘constitutional processes’. The primary argument presented in this article is that principles and ‘general principles of law’, two frequently overlooked categories of norms, are particularly useful tools for the enhancement of these constitutional processes. While often conflated, principles and general principles are distinct, performing different roles in the architecture of the international legal system. Renewed attention and debate on the norms beyond treaties and custom is critical for the enhancement of international law’s systemic features. Two broad examples are given in support of this claim. First, general principles of law have the potential to add substance to the notion of an international community and the role of this community in the creation of international norms. Second, the legal framework for the judicial settlement of international disputes can be rendered more robust through the use of principles and general principles of law. While attempting to redesign or reconceptualise the system, constitutionalists have failed to actually engage with the system. Yet, the popularity of the constitutionalism debate presents an opportunity to re-examine the system’s constituent norms and consider their potential to strengthen international law’s constitutional processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-217
Number of pages21
JournalNetherlands International Law Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • Article 38(1)(c) ICJ Statute
  • Constitutional processes
  • General principles of law
  • International community
  • International legal system
  • Rules and principles

Cite this