IACL - General Presentation

The International Academy of Comparative Law wasfounded at The Hague on 13 September 1924. The date itself is significantbecause it coincides with the prodigious movement towards a renaissance of lawwhich followed World War I. That the Academy was founded in The Hague is alsonotable because that city had earlier been designated as the seat of the PermanentCourt of International Justice and, in addition, was the place at which theAcademy of International Law was founded. In a sense the establishment of bothAcademies at The Hague amounted to areaffirmation of the idea that this city was a symbol of the protection ofpeace through law.


The Academy of International Law and the InternationalAcademy of Comparative Law have numerous points in common. Both organizations bringtogether jurists from all countries of the world. In addition, both undertake theuniversal diffusion of publications which take into consideration all legalorders and all legal systems of the world. But there are also differences: theAcademy of International Law offers its famous summer courses, its Centre ofStudy and Research, as well as other programmes at The Hague and abroad, andhas thus become a teaching and researching institution in the field ofinternational law. Apart from its Curatorium,there are no members of the Academy of International Law. Conversely, theInternational Academy of Comparative Law is a body of scholars that primarilyaims, according to article 2 of its Statutes, at “the comparative study oflegal systems”, and it has currently more than seven hundred members.Furthermore, while our sister institution focuses its activities oninternational law, our Academy is interested in all legal disciplines under a comparativeperspective.


For comparative law scholars it had turned out thatcoming together to exchange ideas would be most useful. As early as 1900, acongress of comparative law was held in Paris, organized by Edouard Lambert andRaymond Saleilles under the aegis of a French association, the Société de législation comparée.[1] At thetime, similar scientific organizations existed in the United States, Germanyand Italy. The end of the war inevitably led to the coming together ofcomparative law scholars and the foundation of an international organizationdesigned to unite the finest scholars, dedicated in their work to the cause ofinternational cooperation and putting the respect of the differences on theforefront.


Elemer Balogh was the architect of this union and thisaccount of the origins of the Academy affords an opportunity to pay homage tohim. Overwhelmed by the misfortunes that had befallen his country, Hungary,after the war, he became a passionate promoter of the unification of all peoples.He believed, moreover, that jurists could be the cement of such a union. For morethan thirty years, and in spite of the catastrophes provoked by the war of1939-1945, Elemer Balogh served as the Secretary General of the Academy,thereby devoting his very life to the success of the institution of which hehad been instrumental in establishing.


An historian by profession, Elemer Balogh understoodthat the historical method could easily be applied to the comparison of legalsystems, and he demonstrated that an essential source of enrichment may befound in a combination of both the vertical and the horizontal studies of lawthrough the comparative method. His successors as Secretaries General wereFelipe de Solá Cañizares, Gabriel Marty, Roland Drago, and Jürgen Basedow,whose names are synonymous throughout the world with the success the Academy hasachieved.


The names of those who have served as presidents ofthe organization are indicative of the prestige that the Academy has alwaysenjoyed: André Weiss, Antonio Sánchez de Bustamante, Roscoe Pound, JeanEscarra, Louis Milliot, Baron Frédericq, C.J. Hamson, Imre Szabo, John Hazard,Paul-André Crépeau, Konstantinos Kerameus, George A. Bermann, and KatharinaBoele-Woelki.


As pointed out above, the Academy is a body ofscholars. According to its Statutes it is composed of Titular Members, electedby the Titular Members preceding them. Associate Members join the TitularMembers to constitute the membership of the Academy. The group of AssociateMembers is not limited in number. They are elected by all preceding members,both Titular and Associate. The majority of members from both categories areacademics but current members also include a number of judges of courts ofsupreme and international jurisdiction. This reflects the fact that theattention of the Academy is directed not only to scientific activity but alsoto the practice of law. Comparative law has, from its beginnings, always broughttogether teaching, research and practical concerns. As a result of a recentmodification of the Statutes, the Academy has also opened its doors towell-respected Corporate Members, active in the field of Comparative Law.Several remarkable institutions have already joined the Academy and we are expectingthe membership of others in the near future.


Members stemming from the same jurisdiction form acommittee. In most cases such committees are national by nature, but there mayalso be subnational committees acknowledged by the Academy where the legal orderof a sub-unit of a nation has a sufficiently distinct character and autonomy. Thesame could be applied to legal orders issued from supranational entities. The Academyis a gathering of persons elected exclusively for scientific purposes and,consequently, no consideration of national or political factors has a bearingon their choice. It is nevertheless necessary, in view of the Academy'sinternational character, that the organization establishes a presence near thenational and regional centres specializing in comparative law. This network encouragesbonds of friendship and cooperation among comparative lawyers of manycountries.


The Academy is no longer the same institution that itwas at the time of its creation. In 1924, difficulties of travel were stillsignificant and the Academy's meetings often provided the only opportunity forjurists to meet. This situation has now changed for at least two reasons.First, in addition to the permanent on-line connection, specialists cometogether much more frequently, whether as individuals invited to teach abroad oras participants at bilateral meetings. Further, since international organizationsspecializing in different branches of law have multiplied, the Academy is nolonger the sole forum for meetings of lawyers at the universal level. This hasreduced the Academy's significance in such fields of action, although for reasonsof principle and in order to preserve its original vocation, the Academy stillundertakes research in all fields of legal science without exception.


When it began its activities, the Academy was able tohold meetings annually. Later, the proliferation of academic events –typical ofour times– compelled the Academy to limit itself to the primary activity of convening,at intervals of four years, the organisation of an International Congress of Comparative Law and of intermediate andthematic congresses half-way. However, the organisation of join activities withother institutions, taking advantage of common synergies, should not be discarded.


The first International Congress of Comparative Lawwas held at The Hague in 1932. The subjects were limited in number –exactlytwenty, grouped in five sections (methodology, sources of law and history;civil law and procedure; commercial and intellectual property law; public andpenal law; and international law).[2] The second congress was also held at The Hague, thistime in 1937.[3] The war brought with it a suspension of activitiesand meetings were only resumed in 1950. The Congresses after the war were asfollows: London (1950), Paris (1954), Brussels (1958), Hamburg (1962), Uppsala(1966), Pescara (1970), Teheran (1974), Budapest (1978), Caracas (1982), Sydney(1986), Montreal (1990), Athens (1994), Bristol (1998), Brisbane (2002),Utrecht (2006), Washington D.C. (2010), and Vienna (2014). The first intermediateand thematic Congress was held at Mexico City in 2008, the second took place inTaipei in 2012, and the next one is expected to be held in Montevideo in 2016.


Currently the number of topics at each international congresshas increased to about thirty. They touch on all major legal disciplines,approached form all possible perspectives.[4] The selection of best topics continues to be a seriouschallenge. Obviously, it is necessary to pay attention to legal evolution, aswell as to the arising of new fields, but also to the modifications of the manyfactors having an impact on the law. Thus, for instance, the unavoidable factshowing that the State is no longer the only legislator shall be taken intoaccount when planning congresses and designating “special” reporters, who willnot be always “national” reporters.


The body of knowledge contained in the General Reportsand the National Reports to the congresses is published in three ways. Firstly,the local organisers of a congress edit a volume containing all generalreports. Secondly, most general reporters undertake the laborious task ofpublishing thematic volumes that comprise their own general report and thenational reports on their subject, thus providing legal scholars across theglobe with a comparative survey of their topic. Ultimately, national committeesin several countries collect the national reports from their jurisdiction andpresent them to the legal world in a volume of collected papers or in a specialissue of a law journal. The website (www.iuscomparatum.org) of the Academytries to keep track with the numerous publications.


The Academy considers the stimulation of research incomparative law throughout the world to be its main role. In his famous articlein the Mélanges Lambert, the greatBritish comparatist Gutteridge emphasized three characteristics which he foundto be central in comparative law: the importance of the discipline as a factorin relations among peoples; its utility for law reform, and its role in legaleducation. The Academy contributes to each of these three great facets of the discipline.Congresses of the Academy have reached to most parts of the globe: they tookplace in Europe until 1970; thereafter in Asia, in 1974, in 2012, andexpectedly in 2016; in the Americas in 1982, 1990, 2008, 2010, and soon in2016; and in Australia in 1986 and 2002. The new Executive Committee has fixedamong its main goals opening to Africa. This confirms the worldwide vocation ofthe Academy which, while evolving, has always sought to preserve the ideals thatinspired its founders.



Diego P. Fernández Arroyo[5]

Secretary General of theInternational Academy of Comparative Law

[1] See Congrès international de droit comparé, 1900, 2 vol, Paris (1905and 1907). See also Livre du centenairede la Société de législation comparée,Paris (1969).

[2] See Mémoires de l'Académieinternationale de droit comparé, 4 vol. Paris, Sirey (1934). See also Le congrès international de droit comparé de1932, Les travaux de la section générale : Souvenirs d'un congressiste par leProfesseur Edouard Lambert, Paris, Sirey (1936).

[3] V. Académie internationale de droit comparé, Questions inscrites au programme du Deuxièmecongrès international de droit comparé, LaHaye, 4-11 August 1937, SD.

[4] We are extremelygrateful to Charles Szladits, whoprepared a remarkable bibliography of the reports and publications of theAcademy since its foundation until 1982. See C. Szladits, “A Bibliography ofReports of the International Congress of Comparative Law 1932-1974”, American Journal of Comparative Law 25 (1977)684-813; idem, Addendum, American Journalof Comparative Law 30 (1982) 709-756.

[5] I thank my predecessors Roland Drago and Jürgen Basedow, authors of theoriginal text on which this presentation has been drafted.

Last update : 16/03/2015


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