There are three main principles of judicial jurisdiction: personal (personam), territorial (locum), and subject matter (subjectam):
- Personal jurisdiction is an authority over a person, regardless of their location.
- Territorial jurisdiction is an authority confined to a bounded space, including all those present therein, and events which occur there. It normally includes the sense of proper venue as it pertains to matters of law and of equity.
- Subject-matter jurisdiction is an authority over the subject of the legal questions involved in the case.
Courts may also have jurisdiction that is exclusive, or concurrent (shared). Where a court has exclusive jurisdiction over a territory or a subject matter, it is the only court that is authorized to address that matter. Where a court has concurrent or shared jurisdiction, more than one court can adjudicate the matter. Where a concurrent jurisdiction exists in a civil case, a party may attempt to engage in forum shopping, by bringing the case to a court or venue which it presumes would rule in its favor.
International laws and treaties provide agreements which nations agree to be bound to.
Supranational organizations provide mechanisms whereby disputes between states may be resolved through arbitration or mediation. When a country is recognized as de jure, it is an acknowledgment by the other de jure nations that the country has sovereignty and the right to exist.
However, it is often at the discretion of each state whether to co-operate or participate. If a state does agree to participate in activities of the supranational bodies and accept decisions, the state is giving up its sovereign authority and thereby allocating 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 its own jurisdiction. But no matter how powerful each body may appear to be, 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 and 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 idea of universal jurisdiction 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.
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