Legal Humility and Perceptions of Power in International Criminal Justice

Nicola Palmer*, Tomas Hamilton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This article examines how judges and lawyers working in international criminal courts see their authority in relation to power exerted by states, international organisations and private actors. We draw together ethnographic research inside the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ictr) and the International Criminal Court (icc) that examined perceptions of the interactions among local, national and international legal regimes and the potential for accomplice liability for arms traders under international criminal law. Overall, we show that the legal actors in these courts routinely understood their power as severely limited by concurrent sites of private and public authority. Building on ideas of legal humility, we argue that this should be understood as 'selective humility'. This humility demonstrated a reticence among these legal actors about what internationalised courts can achieve while offering an argumentative defence against critiques of this legal practice.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational criminal law review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • ICC
  • ICTR
  • international criminal justice
  • legal humility
  • power
  • sociology


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