Principles of Public International Law

February 26, 2009

Author: Ian Brownlie

Edition: Seventh

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 784

Price: £37.99

ISBN 9780199217700

One can only give the warmest welcome to the seventh edition of Ian Brownlie's textbook on public international law. Since it was first published in 1966, this work has established itself as a true "source of international law", within the meaning of Article 38 (1) (d) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice. Brownlie's teachings are indeed those of one of the field's most highly qualified publicists.

This is of course not the only public international law textbook on the market. Malcolm Shaw has just published the sixth edition of his own textbook on international law, which at 1,452 pages is twice the length of Brownlie. Shaw is thorough and comprehensive, and designed specifically for student use. The next edition of David Harris' Cases and Materials on International Law (the sixth edition dates to 2004) is eagerly awaited, and is perhaps the best introductory text for undergraduate students. Personally, I like the more idiosyncratic textbook by Antonio Cassese (its second edition was published in 2005); it would be, with Harris, my own choice for beginners.

So why am I so pleased to see the new Brownlie? One of the reasons is that Brownlie has combined, during a long and distinguished career, the roles of scholar, practitioner and progressive activist. He is presently a Queen's Counsel, in practice in Blackstone Chambers, and is a distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford; and since 2007 he has served as chairman of the International Law Commission. This is a supreme accolade. As an advocate he has represented a number of states against the UK and US, notably Serbia; and as an activist he very recently, in a letter of 11 January 2009 to The Sunday Times, led the list of distinguished scholars and practitioners who described Israel's actions in Gaza as an act of aggression and a war crime.

A key attraction of Brownlie is that his is very much a practitioner's book; initially this is a problem for students. His opinions and judgments are never less than judicious and absolutely sound - and sometimes rather dry. Although his preface contains a waspish reference to "recent episodes of unilateralism", which have "usually involved law-breaking rather than development of the law", he insists that his purpose is to "present an analysis of the principles of public international law when the law is being applied in a framework of normality". Nevertheless, his short section on the principle of self-determination does engage with the ICJ's 2004 Advisory Opinion on the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This section is part of a chapter on human rights that, while short (32 pages), has the great merit to my mind of dealing with "third generation rights", and especially the Algiers Declaration of 1978, which introduced the Rights of Peoples. That is, despite the apparent dryness of the treatment of public international law, the observant reader will find many traces of Brownlie's activism and commitment.

Who is it for? This is an absolutely reliable point of reference for students of public international law, at all levels.

Presentation: A model of clarity and logical exposition.

Would you recommend it? It is indispensable.

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