Liability to International Prosecution: The Nature of Universal Jurisdiction


This article considers the proper method for theorizing about criminal jurisdiction. It challenges a received understanding of how to substantiate the right to punish and articulates an alternative account of how that theoretical task is properly conducted. The received view says that a special relationship is the ground of a tribunal’s authority to prosecute and, hence, that a normative theory of that authority is faced with identifying a distinctive relation. The alternative account locates prosecutorial standing on an institution’s capacity to address the basic reasons generating criminal liability. This reframes the normative issues at stake and has the result that various, perhaps quite heterogeneous, considerations can substantiate penal authority. It also eliminates the existence of a special relation as a necessary condition for legitimate criminal accountability. The argument proceeds by offering an analysis and account of universal jurisdiction. Not only does the alternative elegantly perform where the received view struggles, it can accommodate much of what motivates the pursuit of relational ties in existing efforts to vindicate jurisdictional conclusions.