RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTERNATIONAL LAW AND MUNICIPAL LAW

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There is a divergence of opinion on the question as to whether International Law and Municipal Law on the various national laws can be said to form a unity being manifestations of a single conception of law or whether International Law constitutes an independent system of law essentially different from the Municipal Law. International Law has developed in a form which is different from that of Municipal Law. The relation has been categorized traditionally been characterized from monist or dualist perspective.

 

International Law

According to the Black’s Law Dictionary

“International Law” is defined as: “The legal system governing the relationship between nations; more modernly the Law of International relations  embracing  not only nations but also such participants as  International organizations and individuals (such as those who invoke their human rights or commit war crimes)”

International law is the set of rules generally regarded and accepted as binding in relations between states and nations. It differs from national legal systems in that it only concerns nations rather than private citizens. National law may become international law when treaties delegate national jurisdiction to supranational tribunals such as the European Court of Human Rights or the International Criminal Court. Treaties such as the Geneva Conventions may require national law to conform.

The term "international law" can refer to three distinct legal disciplines:

  1. which jurisdiction may hear a case, and
  2. the law concerning which jurisdiction applies to the issues in the case.
  • Supranational law or the law of supranational organizations, which concerns regional agreements where the laws of nation states may be held inapplicable when conflicting with a supranational legal system when that nation has a treaty obligation to a supranational collective.

The two traditional branches of the field are:

  • Jus gentium  : is the body of treaties, U.N. conventions, and other international agreements [law of nations] – Law is common to all nations
  • Jus inter gentes: agreements between nations

Municipal Law

According to the Black’s Law Dictionary

“Municipal Law” is defined as: “The ordinances and other laws applicable within a city, town or other local government entity”.

Basically, Municipal law is the national, domestic, or internal law of a sovereign state defined in opposition to international law. Municipal law includes not only law at the national level, but law at the state, provincial, territorial, regional or local levels. While, as far as the law of the state is concerned, these may be distinct categories of law, international law is largely uninterested in this distinction and treats them all as one. Similarly, international law makes no distinction between the ordinary law of the state and its constitutional law.

 

Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties provides that, where a treaty conflicts with a state's municipal law (including the state's constitution), the state is still obliged to meet its obligations under the treaty. The only exception to this rule is provided by Article 46 of the Vienna Convention, where a state's expression of consent to be bound by a treaty was a manifest violation of a "rule of its internal law of fundamental importance.”

 

Relationship between International and Municipal Law

It is important to understand how international law principles become part of domestic law, and to explain what happens if the rules conflict. The theories of monism and dualism are the two main theories that explain the relationship between international and municipal law.

 

  • Monism

In this theory, all law is part of a universal legal order and regulates the conduct of the individual State. The difference in the international sphere is that the consequences are generally attributed to the State. Since all law is part of the same legal order, international law is automatically incorporated into the domestic legal order. Some monist theorists consider that international law prevails over domestic law if they are in conflict; others, that conflicting domestic law has some operation within the domestic legal system.

 

  • Dualism

This theory holds that international law and domestic law are separate bodies of law, operating independently of each other. Under dualism, rules and principles of international law cannot operate directly in domestic law, and must be transformed or incorporated into domestic law before they can affect individual rights and obligations.

The main differences between international and domestic law are thought to be the sources of law, its subjects, and subject matter. International law derives from the collective will of States, its subjects are the States themselves, and its subject matter is the relations between States. Domestic law derives from the will of the sovereign or the State, its subjects are the individuals within the State, and its subject matter is the relations of individuals with each other and with government.

 

  • Harmonisation

Neither monism nor dualism can adequately explain the relationship between international and domestic law, and alternative theories have developed which regard international law as having a harmonisation role. If there is a conflict, domestic law is applied within the domestic legal system, leaving the State responsible at the international level for any breach of its international law obligations.

 

Position of International Law with the Constitution framework of India

The drafters of the Indian Constitution have been extremely vague in defining the status of international law in the municipal sphere. Our Constitution provides little guidance as to the relationship between international law and municipal law. This ambiguity looms large in the absence of any debate in the Constitutional Assembly on the subject and the studied silence of Constitutional pundits.

The primary issue is whether our Constitution makes a mere textual disposition of the relationship of International Law and Municipal Law. Apart from the express provisions of the Constitution, we also need to rely on actual State practice. Article 51(C)[1] (which falls within the realm of the Directive Principles that are non-justifiable in character) of the Constitution specifically mentions International Law and imposes a duty on the state to respect it. But the jurisdiction of the court to enforce them in the domestic arena has been limited by virtue of Article 37. In this backdrop, it is interesting to take note of 'The Regulating Act of 1873', which directed all Courts in India to act in accordance with "equity, justice and good conscience". On the basis of this principle, Common Law rules were transplanted into the Indian Municipal Law. It seems that India has barely deviated from its preconstitutional position in the matters of basic canons governing the principles of International law and Municipal Law.

It is a well-established principle that constitutional conventions may also breathe through legislative or constitutional enactments;[2] So, the common law rules automatically became unwritten Constitutional law of a supplementary character. It is an important principle of Constitutional interpretation that every provision of the Constitution must be given effect to. Therefore, these rules continue to be in force in the Indian legal setting by virtue of Article 225 and 37 of the Constitution of India. These provisions are based on the universally recognised principle that law once established, continues until changed by some competent legislative power. The Indian Independence Act, 1947 also incorporated the same principles under section 18(3). Therefore, such practices will be of binding nature in International Law as well as in the Municipal sphere. Hence under Article 372 of the Constitution such practices will have the force of law and India will be bound to observe the same. A composite reading of the Articles 51(c),253 and 372 suggest that India has not deviated from the common law position. Therefore, India will have the same legal practice of treating customary International Law as part of the law of the land provided that it is not inconsistent with the existing statutory provisions and the national charter.

Regarding treaties they have to be transformed into enabling legislation. In the Indian context, the ratification of a treaty doesn't ipso facto transform it into domestic law. The nonobstante clause under Article 253 of the Constitution bestows on the Parliament exclusive competence to legislate upon the treaties entered into by the Government of India.

However, Dr. P.C. Rao aptly cautions that by virtue of Article 73, "The executive power extends to all transactions which bring the Union into the relation with any foreign country or other international person". Accordingly, when there is a controlling executive; recourse cannot be had to principles of Customary International Law. Nor can such principles override the case law.

Supreme Court has held in several cases such as Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan, Randhir vs. Union of India, Unnikrishnan vs. State of Karnataka, that domestic laws of India, including the constitution are not to be read as derogatory to International law. An effort must be made to read the domestic law as being in harmony with the international law in case of any ambiguity. At the same time, the constitution is still the supreme law of the land and in case of any directly conflict the constitution will prevail.

The above inspection of the Constitutional provisions amply clarifies the status of international law in the domestic field.

Conclusion

There are mainly two theories- monistic and dualistic which are used to study the relationship between the internal and international law. Monistic theory is based on natural law which suggests that internal law as well as international law is a part of the same law and there is no need for separation between them. But the dualistic theory which is based on positive law says that domestic law and international law are separate entities. The nation state need not obey international law unless it accepts to do so. Though both theories has its own place in international law, few countries in this world follow pure dualism or monism. The countries follow international law when it is in their favour and do not follow when it is not. This is what we can see in the international scenario.

 

[1] Article 51 of the Constitution corresponds to (I) Article 29 of the Constitution of Eire, 1937; (II) Article 28,29,30 of the USSR, 1977 and (III) Article VI Cl. (2) of the Constitution of the United States. Apart from this it has close similarity to some of the International Charters and Covenants such as (a) Article 28, 29 of the Universal Declaration of the human Rights, 1948; (II) Articles 1 and 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966; And (III) Articles 1, 4 and 22 of the International Covenant Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

[2] Supreme Court on Record Advocate Association v. Union of India, (1993) 4 SCC 441 1993 Indlaw SC 494.

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