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Abstract

The international law of jurisdiction is faced with far-reaching changes in the context of a globalizing world, but its general orientation, centred on territoriality as the guiding principle, has remained stable for a long time. This paper traces how, in contrast to the prevailing rhetoric of continuity, core categories of jurisdiction have been transformed in recent decades in such a way as to generate an ‘unbound’ jurisdiction, especially when it comes to the regulation of global business activities. The result is a jurisdictional assemblage – an assemblage in which a multiplicity of states have valid jurisdictional claims without clear principles governing the relationship between them, creating a situation in which, in practice, a few powerful countries wield the capacity to set and implement the rules. Jurisdiction is thus misunderstood if framed as an issue of horizontal relations among sovereign equals but should rather be regarded as a structure of global governance through which (some) states govern transboundary markets. Using a governance prism, this paper argues, can help us to gain a clearer view of the normative challenges raised by the exercise of unbound jurisdiction, and it shifts the focus to the accountability mechanisms required to protect not only the rights of targeted companies but also, and especially, the self-government of weaker countries.

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