Peter Leyland reports on the VIII World Congress of the IACL

‘Constitutions and Principles’ provided the theme of this Congress held in Mexico City between 6-10 December 2010. This event held every 3-4 years has become a landmark occasion for constitutional lawyers with over 700 participants from more than 70 different countries. For anyone attending the scale of the event and its international character is immediately apparent. This gathering provides a unique opportunity to meet colleagues from every continent. The official languages are English and French but for this congress many papers were also delivered in Spanish. The neoclassical Mining Palace in the heart of Mexico City was the imposing venue. An official welcome was extended to participants at the opening session from host Hector Fix-Ferraro of UNAM and the retiring IACL President, Didier Maus.

The plenary sessions were entitled: Philosophical perspectives on principles in Constitutional law with speakers: Michel Troper, Ulrich Preuss, Bruce Ackerman, Samantha Besson; Constitutional law and the generation and use of principles with Michel Rosenfeld, Diago Vlades, Yu Xingshong, Armin von Bogdady; Principles: universal and particular? with Ayelet Shachar, Sandra Liebenberg, Jiunn-rong Yeh, Mark Tushnet, Cesar Landa; Constitutional principles and the judge, with Jose Ramon Cossio, Jutta Limbach, Babacar Kante, Guy Canivet, Susan Kiefel.

It was no surprise that a high proportion of the 18 workshops concentrated on developing discussion of constitutional principles: ‘Is Federalism a Constitutional Principle?’, ‘Proportionality as a Principle’, ‘Media and Constitutional Principles’, ‘The principle of separation of powers reviewed’, ‘The impact of international law on constitutional principles’ and ‘Constitutional Principles and democratic transition’. At the same time other workshops such as: ‘The rule of law in the age of terrorism’, ‘Religion and the State’, ‘Indivisibility of Human Rights’ and ‘Multiculturalism and indigenous people’s rights’ provided scope for debate around contemporary constitutional issues. By way of contrast there was an opportunity to reflect on the methodology of comparative constitution law in the workshop entitled: ‘How comparative is comparative constitutional law?’ In addition, a distinctive Latin American flavour to the proceedings was present with a workshop entitled: ‘New trends in Latin American Constitutional Law’.

In a brief report it is not possible to even attempt to summarise the academic content, however a reference to a sample of the papers presented at one workshop conveys the truly international character of this conference. In Foreign law: jurisprudence cross fertilization chaired by Tania Groppi and Marie-Claire Ponthoreau which set out among other things to test the thesis of transjudicial dialogue and convergence of the common law and civil law traditions. The papers selected included: ‘Using of foreign constitutional precedents by the Russian Constitutional Court’ (Russia), ‘Enigmatic Attitudes of the Supreme Court of Japan towards Foreign Precedents: Refusal at the Front Door and Admission at the Back Door’ (Japan), ‘Use of foreign constitutional precedents in Mexico’ (Mexico), ‘The use of foreign law in Constitutional Cases in India and Singapore: Empirical Trends and Theoretical Concerns’ (India), The Portuguese Constitutional Court and judicial dialogue’ (Portugal). All papers which were submitted to workshops and accepted can be found on the conference website

Of course, it is a particular challenge for chairs of workshops at an event of this magnitude to lend some sort of coherence to sessions with many diverse contributions and with presenters ranging from experienced academics and practitioners to relatively untested Phd students. The policy adopted for presenting papers varied from workshop to workshop. Some however appeared to have been swamped with papers and a number of contributors were disappointed to have only 5 minutes or so to summarise their papers.

For many participants the work done on the fringes of the conference is of no less importance than the formal sessions. In particular this event provides an important opportunity for the regional research groups to meet and for a meeting of the constitutional law journals network. Many significant collaborative publications have resulted from such meetings.

A number of publishers had kiosks at the Mining Palace including OUP and Hart Publishing. Hart Publishing also organised a successful presentation by Richard Hart, Cheryl Saunders, Andrew Harding and Peter Leyland followed by a reception to mark the publication of eight volumes in the series ‘Constitutional Systems of the World’ (UK, USA, Vietnam, South Africa, Germany, Japan, Finland, Australia). A sell out of books brought to Mexico together with a considerable order for more books was testimony to the popularity of this series.

The conference also provided a taste of Mexican culture. The national museum of art opposite the mining palace was the splendid location for the welcoming cocktail party. The gala dinner hosted by Mr Alonso Lujambio, Minister of Education, was held in the palace housing the Ministry of Education which provided guests with the opportunity to view the magnificent mural paintings of Diego Rivera before they sat down to eat. There were also tours available to the archeological site at Teotihuacan and the famous museum of antropology.

Council Meeting of the International Association of Constitutional Law

The IACL Council comprising representatives of all national organisations (Peter Leyland and Sabine Michalowski representing CLG UK) is responsible for ratifying the recommendations of the IACL Executive Committee, including those relating to the composition of the executive committee itself, and it is also responsible for approving the reports of the secretariat. Where possible meetings are conducted so as achieve consensus but the meeting on the 8 December 2010 began in contentious fashion. A number of members strongly objected to the revised agenda of the meeting proposed by the chair, outgoing President Didier Maus. It was pointed out that the order and procedure put before the meeting departed from previous practice and involved adopting a method for selecting vice-presidents that were at variance with the articles of association of the organisation. After some debate the chair’s proposal was finally dropped reflecting the feeling of the meeting. The chair tried unsuccessfully to raise this issue again later in the meeting.

The formal business of the meeting then moved on to consider and then approve the reports from the outgoing president, the secretariat and the audit commission (treasurer). The accounts demonstrated that the organisation is solvent and that this is assisted by its limited overheads with only two officials. One issue which had presented problems concerned technical difficulties transferring funds from Euro accounts to South Africa where the two members of the secretariat are based. Making sure that subscriptions are up-to-date was recognised as another important issue. A detailed breakdown was provided by the treasurer. The meeting went on to consider and approve proposed changes to IACL statutes. The new Executive Committee was also approved by the meeting which now includes the CLG nominee Andrew Le Sueur as the UK representative on this committee. Martin Scheinin, the new President of the organisation, took the chair towards the end of the meeting. Finally, Oslo was confirmed as the venue for the next congress which will be held in the summer of 2014.

Peter Leyland