Judicial Behaviour in Investment Treaty Arbitration
: Politics of the Minimum Standard of Treatment under the North American Free Trade Agreement

  • U. Erman Ozgur

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    That subjective and political values form the sources and function of international law, is an often encountered claim and the literature produced by schools of international legal theory in response to this inquiry diverge. On the one hand, according to classical and positivist approaches to international law, a formalistic and ideal form of the law that is also detached from the world of politics is possible. On the other hand, the perception that attitudinal and institutional constraints might determine the content of the law is common in international legal scholarship ranging from international relations approaches and the New Stream to policy oriented perspectives.

    Understanding the content of the law, however, would also necessitate questioning how adjudicators interpret legal texts and decide in causal-positive terms. In other words, in theorizing international law, one should explore the interpretation and application of international law in order to test whether adjudicators are influenced by background, training, personality, value preferences as well as normative and structural institutional constraints and, thus, if international law operates based on law and/or politics.

    Based on the theories and methods of judicial behaviour that originate from the American legal realism movement of the early 20th century, this work undertakes a non-empirical socio-legal research that studies the behaviour of ITA tribunals. It considers that law is indeterminate and that the process of judicial-decision making is a mixture of law, politics and policy. This work constructs a framework based on the political regimes approach by Clayton and May (1999), supplemented by the political jurisprudence literature of Shapiro (1964) and the historical interpretive approach of Smith (1988). It argues that ITA Tribunals “may believe that individual legal institutions are themselves embedded within, and draw meaning from, the larger political regime”. In doing so, the ITA Tribunal may assume a principal political role in order to accommodate the interests of various stakeholders involved in the broader political regime of international investment, albeit limited to constitutive and non-constitutive institutions. This work investigates the role of institutions embedded in the broader political regime in judicial decision-making in ITA. How do institutions, with their political characteristics, affect the process of decision-making in ITA or do they affect at all? To that extent, this work is concerned with whether the ITA Tribunal oscillates between the normative character of the law and the political contingency of the law. It examines the extent to which the ITA Tribunal accommodates politics in its decisions and, in this vein, whether there is a correlation between politics and decision-making in ITA.

    As its case study, this work studies arbitral decision-making under NAFTA Chapter 11. It first explores the broader political regime in which NAFTA tribunals operate, revisiting the original bargain that underlies the NAFTA deal. It then identifies specific constitutive institutions that are influential in NAFTA ITA decision-making. It traces the specific vocabulary or ‘grammar’ (Koskenniemi 1989) that is used by Chapter 11 Tribunals in considering the place of these constitutive institutions in ITA decision-making. Subsequently, this work studies the normative political development of Article 1105 on the minimum standard of treatment within the broader political regime under NAFTA. It investigates shifts in the specific vocabulary vis-à-vis the distortions to the two pillars of the political regime of NAFTA, namely asymmetric obligations and the regulation of environment. This work demonstrates that the development of the minimum standard of treatment under Article 1105 reflects a brief history of intrusion by non-disputing parties from sovereign states and amici. This is enabled through the constitutive institutions and draws meaning from the political regime of international investment under NAFTA. It concludes that the ITA Tribunal is able to develop a vocabulary with which it could internalize the conundrums of the broader political regime in which it operates. This shows that the ITA Tribunal is not only competent in settling disputes but also in judicial politics.
    Date of Award2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPeter Cameron (Supervisor) & Peter Bekker (Supervisor)


    • Judicial behaviour
    • Investment treaty arbitration
    • Judicial politics
    • Minimum standard of treatment
    • Article 1105
    • NAFTA

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