Document Type


Publication Date



Words, language, culture, and literature are so important to us human beings that it should come as little surprise that they are part of our law. This article considers language and law in general with a focus on issues of criminal justice, both domestic and international. I examine how and why comparative law is valuable in a criminal procedure course, and generally for domestic and international criminal justice. My examination begins by looking back to our common roots in crime, punishment, and expiation, with a special focus on the role of torture and its impact on current criminal justice systems.

Comparative law also serves as a springboard from which to ponder law and philosophy in the context of a basic or advanced criminal procedure course. International criminal courts provide a useful example of the value and challenges of comparative law because they are actually experiments in mixing legal systems and procedures as they function in the arena of international law. Although wholesale or simplistic borrowing is wrong and often harmful, carefully comparing how disparate systems resolve similar problems is most helpful. To elucidate this, I use the examples of “verdict” and “to represent.” They look the same on paper, but manifest quite differently in practice in America and in Europe — prime examples of why comparative analysis can be so illuminating.

It should not be surprising that comparative analysis is crucial to courses or parts of courses in international or transnational criminal law, as functionally, those are mixed systems — requiring a mixture of international law and domestic law or of international law and that of two or more domestic legal systems. This is especially so in international law, which functions as a mixed jurisdiction essentially comprised of Romano-Germanic and Common Law elements and approaches. Those who understand and can work with both the Romano-Germanic and the Common Law systems will be more able to understand the nuances of international law, its methods, analytical style, and sources. This will help them succeed in practice, scholarship and teaching.