Document Type


Publication Date



More than 2,000 years have passed since the idea of the “rule of law” appeared in Western culture. But only recently has it entered common usage—we have become the “rule of law generation.” With the growth in the number of international courts and tribunals, the question arises whether the same principles surrounding the rule of law that have been developed in many national legal systems also apply in international arenas. Despite the fact that the international system lacks a centralized legislative authority, and despite the scepticism of many observers, I argue that institutions like the dispute settlement system of the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) significantly contribute to moving toward a full-fledged international “rule of law.”

In the first part of this Comment, I explore what the concept of “rule of law” means in a domestic setting, and address the problems arising from applying this concept in the international arena. In the second part, I analyse the role of the WTO’s dispute settlement system, and in particular of the Appellate Body, in the progressive development of an international rule of law. In the third part, I address the question of whether the WTO’s dispute settlement system can constitute a valid model for how the rule of law can be applied in other international arenas. In the fourth part, I examine the potential obstacles in the path of establishing a genuine rule of law at the WTO—namely the absence of a balance between a highly functioning adjudicatory system and a weak legislative arm.

Publication Citation

Jennifer Hillman, An Emerging International Rule of Law?—The WTO Dispute Settlement System’s Role in its Evolution, 42 Ottawa L. Rev. 269-284 (2010-2011)