Forum charts path to legal enlightenment

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 December, 2009, 12:00am

City University's school of law hosted the International Conference on the New Haven School of Jurisprudence - An Appraisal of its Contribution to Contemporary World Affairs.

Last month's event brought together legal scholars and academics from North America, Europe, the mainland and elsewhere in Asia to promote a better understanding of the modern social and political realities, and how international legal principles and philosophy change over time to meet needs and aspirations.

The objective of the conference, held on November 23-24, was to raise awareness of the theoretical context and the practical application of international law in times of war and peace.

International law is an area where disagreements are inevitable among nation states - large and small - owing to conflicting interests. Misunderstanding and suspicion arise due to different political beliefs, agendas, cultures and religions. Tensions between developed and developing countries have been another contributor to a lack of cohesion in international principles.

The New Haven School has a policy-oriented approach to international law pioneered by Myres McDougal and Harold Lasswell at Yale Law School. It posits that jurisprudence is a theory about making social choices - with the most important legal and intellectual tasks being prescribing and applying policy to maintain social order while achieving the best possible societal goals.

Such normative values include creating wealth, skills, health and well-being, affection, respect and enlightenment. The New Haven approach is directly applicable to problems of war and peace, international development, maritime and transport law, and transnational trade, investment and dispute resolution.

In recent years, CityU has taken an active interest in promoting the study of international law, with its students having done well at international mooting competitions. The university offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in international trade and international dispute settlement.

'The hosting of the New Haven conference is one of several initiatives that our law school has taken in its efforts to emphasise the importance of taking a broader and liberal view of law at a time when globalisation calls for unification or harmonisation of laws,' says Anton Cooray, associate dean and professor of law at CityU.

He believes the New Haven approach to international law emphasises the importance of understanding the process of making and evolving international legal rules and principles.

New Haven encourages lawyers not to view international law from a purely legal perspective, but to adopt an interdisciplinary point of view. 'It enables lawyers to understand and appreciate the different social and political environments in which international law has to operate in order to provide a widely accepted legal framework of interaction between countries,' Cooray says.

Cooray contends that the New Haven approach 'instils in lawyers a quest for the purpose of law' and equips them to explore ways in which laws can be better framed and implemented in order to make laws not only effective but also widely accepted. 'The New Haven approach facilitates better understanding between international players and could lead to harmony and mutual respect.'

Another proponent of the New Haven approach is attendee Eisuke Suzuki, professor of policy studies at Kwansei Gakuin University in Kobe-Sanda, Japan. He believes the conference was a success and that New Haven is a theory about all law in any context and not limited to international law.

It was the first time a conference on the New Haven School had been held in Asia.

Stressing the paradigm's global appeal, Suzuki says it was significant that mainland international lawyers participated in the conference alongside lawyers from different parts of the world. 'One has to acknowledge that they were all speaking English to each other regardless of their nationality,' says Suzuki, who gave a presentation on international financial institutions.

Another notable attendee was Siegfried Wiessner, a professor of law at St Thomas University in Miami. He also presented on global problems and solutions associated with policy-oriented jurisprudence.

Wiessner asserts that the New Haven approach has several innovative features in its analytical framework distinguishing it from other schools of thought. These include using knowledge from all relevant disciplines, not just law, to solve a problem; identifying conflicting claims, claimants and their perspectives; predicting decisions on the basis of altered factors; and developing solutions to problems. 'It is a major, empowering and fertile innovation,' he says.

He contends that the approach is not only applicable to international law, although it has been used there most, but is also applicable to law at any level, whether local, state or tribal.

According to Fozia Lone, an assistant professor of law at CityU and chairwoman of a panel on the global constitutive process, the New Haven School is innovative because it offers a better way to understand decisions and studying law. 'The emphasis is on the viewpoint of decision makers,' she says.

The approach recognises that decisions are essentially about policy and embraces the interdisciplinary investigation that offers a means to account for the complex mutual reliance of international legal issues, Lone says. 'This kind of approach, therefore, scintillates pioneering thinking about complex international issues.'

While Lone says it is difficult to predict whether the New Haven approach will become predominant among international jurists and lawyers, she believes it is clear that the New Haven School does not aspire to prevail, nor does it claim to be the perfect system for understanding law.

Nevertheless, she believes that the paradigm empowers scholars and legal practitioners who use its methods to analyse the law. 'I personally remain optimistic and believe that this approach will be adopted by people like me who wish to synthesise law in a holistic, proactive and multidisciplinary manner,' she says.

Wiessner is also optimistic. 'With Hong Kong's leadership as a cultural crossroads of the world, it might just be the launching pad for this enlightened view of the profession and its mission,' he says.