The Persistent Significance of Jurisdiction


  • This article is based on a presentation given at the conference on “Experts, Law and Authority” organized by the University of Hull and the Centre for Experts and Institutions. I am grateful to the participants for a stimulating discussion. I also want to thank members of a working group at the IVR conference in Granada, Spain, and to an audience at the Legal Research Institute, UNAM, for their valuable input. Matyas Bodig, John Gardner, Juan Vega Gomez, Antony Hatzistavrou, Peter Jaffey, Haris Papadopoulos, Giorgio Pino, David Plunkett, Stefan Sciaraffa, John Stanton-Ife, and Nicos Stavropoulos read and commented on earlier drafts. I am indebted to them. The usual disclaimer applies.


According to Joseph Raz's sources thesis, the existence and content of authoritative directives must be identifiable by resort to the social fact of their provenance from a de facto authority, without regard to any of the normative considerations that the authority in question is supposed to rely on in its judgment. This article argues that the sources thesis fails to account for the role of jurisdictional considerations (namely, considerations about the scope of a de facto authority's power) in the identification of valid law. It examines a legal system with a legislature and courts and a practice of constitutional review of legislation by the courts for its conformity with fundamental rights and argues that the special normative status of (at least some) authoritative directives in this legal system depends on respect for jurisdiction. An assessment of whether an authority has stayed intra vires involves recourse to the normative considerations that it is the authority's job to weigh up. This criticism of the sources thesis highlights the importance of incorporating jurisdiction into our philosophical accounts of legal authority.