Regulating Jurisdiction Collisions in International Law: The Case of the European Court of Justice’s Exclusive Jurisdiction in Law of the Sea Disputes

To maximize their chances of receiving a favorable disposition, claimants often aspire to bring complex disputes to more than one international court. However, doing so may bring their claims under the jurisdiction of more than one branch of international law simultaneously, creating what this note calls a jurisdiction collision. This practice poses a challenge to the cohesion of international adjudication as competing international tribunals, relying on differing precedents, may give differing interpretations to the same rule.

Concentrating on the classical roots of international law and its changing significance over time and within different contexts, this note considers the benefits and detriments of jurisdiction collisions. As a case study, it considers the European Court of Justice, which has increasingly claimed exclusive jurisdiction over international disputes involving EU Member States that potentially raise issues of Community law. In particular, it evaluates how the exclusive jurisdiction system institutionalized by the European Court has affected the litigation and disposition of law of the sea disputes. Concluding that jurisdiction collisions have the potential to add value to international law, this note proposes a coherent system of principles to govern collisions and mitigate their potential detriments. This system requires international adjudicators to determine whether they have proper jurisdiction over an international legal dispute based on three factors: the importance and urgency of the rights at stake to the relevant community; the degree to which each court can provide meaningful remedies; and whether the claims either have been previously decided or are being simultaneously heard at another court.