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Types of judicial jurisdiction

There are three main types of judicial jurisdiction, personal (personam), territorial (locum), and subject matter (subjectam):

· Personal - Authority over a person, regardless of his location.

· Territorial - Authority confined to a bounded space, including all those present therein, and events which occur there.

· Subject Matter - Authority over the subject of the legal questions involved in the case.

For jurisdiction to be complete, a court must have a concurrence of subject matter jurisdiction with either personal or territorial jurisdiction. The territorial jurisdiction is critical, on the principle that courts enforce laws which are territorial in their authority.

A succinct definition can be stated as follows: "An area of land that is governed by an entity who can hold those residing therein accountable for following specific laws."

Jurisdiction in the international dimension

Public international law provides a framework within which nations and states (in the political sense of the words) can come into being and relate to each other.

Jurisdiction as a political issue

A number of supranational organizations and bodies have been created which provide mechanisms whereby disputes between states may be avoided, discussed or resolved, e.g. through arbitration or mediation. When a country is recognized as de jure, this is an acknowledgment by the other de jure nations that the new country has sovereignty and the right to exist. This is a political system that moves slowly, gathering consensus wherever possible and the extent to which any state will co-operate or participate is always at the discretion of each sovereign state. Necessarily, if any state does agree to participate in any of the activities of the supranational bodies and to accept decisions that might be made in the ordinary course of their business, that state is giving up a little of its sovereign authority and thereby allocating a little power to these bodies. Insofar as these bodies or nominated individuals may resolve disputes in a judicial or quasi-judicial fashion, or promote treaty obligations in the nature of laws, the power ceded to these bodies cumulatively represents each body's own jurisdiction. But no matter how powerful each body may appear to become, the extent to which any of the judgments may be enforced, or proposed treaties and conventions may become or remain effective within the territorial boundaries of each nation is a political matter under the sovereign control of the relevant representative government(s) which, in a democratic context, will have electorates to satisfy.

International versus municipal jurisdiction

The fact that international organizations, courts and tribunals have been created raises the difficult question of how to co-ordinate their activities with those of national courts. If the two sets of bodies do not have concurrent jurisdiction but, as in the case of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the relationship is expressly based on the principle of complementarity, i.e. the international court is subsidiary or complementary to national courts, the difficulty is avoided. But if the jurisdiction claimed is concurrent, or as in the case of International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the international tribunal is to prevail over national courts, the problems are more difficult to resolve politically.

The concept of jades law is fundamental to the operation of global organizations such as the United Nations and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which jointly assert the benefit of maintaining legal entities with jurisdiction over a wide range of matters of significance to states (the ICJ should not be confused with the ICC and this version of "universal jurisdiction" is not the same as that enacted in the War Crimes Law (Belgium) which is an assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction that will fail to gain implementation in any other state under the standard provisions of public policy). Under Article 34 Statute of the ICJ only states may be parties in cases before the Court and, under Article 36, the jurisdiction comprises all cases which the parties refer to it and all matters specially provided for in the Charter of the United Nations or in treaties and conventions in force. But, to invoke the jurisdiction in any given case, all the parties have to accept the prospective judgment as binding. This reduces the risk of wasting the Court's time.

Despite the safeguards built into the constitutions of most of these organizations, courts and tribunals, the concept of universal jurisdiction is controversial among those states which prefer unilateral to multilateral solutions through the use of executive or military authority, sometimes described as realpolitik-based diplomacy.

Within other international contexts, there are intergovernmental organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) that have socially and economically significant dispute resolution functions but, again, even though their jurisdiction may be invoked to hear the cases, the power to enforce their decisions is at the will of the states affected, save that the WTO is permitted to allow retaliatory action by successful states against those states found to be in breach of international trade law. At a regional level, groups of states can create political and legal bodies with sometimes complicated patchworks of overlapping provisions detailing the jurisdictional relationships between the member states and providing for some degree of harmonization between their national legislative and judicial functions, e.g. the European Union and African Union both have the potential to become federated states although the political barriers to such unification in the face of entrenched nationalism will be very difficult to overcome. Each such group may form transnational institutions with declared legislative or judicial powers. For example, in Europe, the European Court of Justice has been given jurisdiction as the ultimate appellate court to the Member States on issues of European law. This jurisdiction is entrenched and its authority could only be denied by a Member State if that Member State asserts its sovereignty and withdraws from the Union.

State level

Within each state, it is for the government to determine the allocation of jurisdiction:

1. There must be physical distribution of courts and tribunals throughout the territory which should be divided into convenient functional divisions to provide an effective service to the local communities. Hence, it may be convenient for there to be an extensive network of smaller local courts having a criminal law jurisdiction so that neighborhoods can have a disposition system administered by those familiar with their locality and its needs (see criminal jurisdiction). Whereas more specialized civil and commercial courts need only be located in larger towns and major cities where there is a demand for the particular specialisms consistent with the economic costs of providing the facilities and personnel to staff them. Each court system lays down detailed rules for determining who may invoke the jurisdiction in each of the various divisions. In addition to the possibility that the plaintiff has a local domicile, nationality or habitual residence, these conditions may vary from minimum residence requirements for those more transiently present, that business has been conducted within the territory or that there is some other real connection between the plaintiff and/or the cause of action and the state in which the lawsuit has been filed.

2. The government may decide that individuals within the executive should have the power to make judicial or quasi-judicial decisions, and the extent to which the exercise of this jurisdiction should be subject to review by the courts. This has constitutional implications in that many states operate on the basis of the separation of powers which requires that each branch of government operates as a check on the potential abuse of power by the others. Within the formalized judicial structure, jurisdiction may also be granted to individuals for the provision of specialized functions (e.g. the role of special referees or those individuals of prestige commissioned to conduct inquiries into specific situations with the power to compel testimony). In parallel to the courts system, other tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies may also have a form of jurisdiction, e.g. for arbitration, mediation, etc within a broad framework of alternative dispute resolution. Under normal circumstances, the supervisory function of the courts will be built into the constitutive process for each tribunal or body, or the courts will allow their jurisdiction to be invoked, e.g. by way of remedies such as certiorari, to ensure that justice is seen to be done. However, some well-established bodies such as the Beth Din represent more interesting challenges. Such religious or culturally-based courts often have significant power within the relevant communities yet, in an increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world, the secular or culturally-different majority in each state cannot be seen to be too quick to interfere and impose its standards without appearing to engage in unequal treatment and discrimination.

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