International Law Meaning

international law

International law is the set of rules, regulations, common norms, and standards which are generally accepted in the relations between nations. It is also called North nations or public international law. Generally, international law is above and outside the domestic laws of the nations and states. It operates on the territories of all the states to some extent. The term international law was coined by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham.

Scope of International Law

International law establishes general guidelines and a framework to guide the nations in issues of war, diplomacy, Trade, rights, etc. International law deals with the states to his legal as well as political entities. It applies to all the states equally without any discrimination based on size and power. The scope of international law has been extended today from the preservation of peace to the regulation of various important activities. International law is different from the state-based legal system and it applies to countries rather than to individuals and citizens. It largely operates in the nations through consent because there is no authority to enforce it from the sovereign nations. That’s why the states can also choose not to follow international law.

The international generally includes the international customs treaties and the principles which are mostly recognized by the nations. It is also a mixture of the domestic laws of various nations. The relationship between a national legal system and international law is very complex. Sometimes the national law became the international law then the same is permitted by treaties. The national laws or municipal laws can also provide for the implementation of international laws into domestic law.

Various Definitions of International Law by Eminent Jurists

  • Professor Oppenheim

Love nations or international law is the name for the body of customary and conventional rules which are considered legally binding by civilized Estates in their intercourse with each other.

  • Gray

International law or the law of nations is the name of a body of rules which according to the usual definitions regulated the conduct of states in their intercourse with each other.

  • Brierly

The law of nations may be defined as the body of homes and principles of actions that are binding upon civilized states concerning each other.

  • Hackworth

International law consists of a body of rules governing the relations between the states.

  • Whiteman

International law is the standard of conduct, at a given time comma for states and other entities subject thereto. 

  • Schwarzenberger

International law is the body of legal rules which apply between sovereign states and such other entities as having been granted international personality.

  • Fenwick

International law may be defined in broad terms as the body of general principles and specific rules with her finding on the members of the international community in their mutual relations.

  • Cobbet

International law may be described as the sum of the rules accepted by the civilized Estates as determining their conduct towards each other, and towards each other’s subjects.

Sources of International Law

As per Article 38 (1) of the International Court of Justice, there are three main resources of international law:


Treaties are also known as Conventions, agreements, pacts, General acts, charters, and covenants. Usually, participants agree to be bound in these instruments through negotiations. Treaties do not include informal and Nonbinding political declarations. Treaties can be bilateral or unilateral. Countries that don’t ratify treaties are bound by treaties. There is no prescribed form or procedure to conclude treaties. Either the state heads or governments can draft treaties. The main element in the treaty is the consent of the state. The ratification of the treaty is the most common way of declaring consent. Also, the procedure of ratification varies from country to country. A treaty can be suspended or terminated in the way provided in its provisions or by the concerned parties’ consent. 


As per the statute of the International Court of Justice international custom is evidence of a general practice accepted as law. It is the second major source of international law. Two fundamental elements of custom include the actual practice of states and the acceptance by states of that practice as law. The actual practice includes elements like -consistency, duration, behavior, and repetition. These Elements are important to realize whether a particular practice can form the basis of an international custom. Also, that practice must be constant and have uniform usage. All states contribute to the development or modification of custom but their contribution may vary. When a practice became international custom then all the states in the international community are bound to follow irrespective of their consent except in special cases. A practice or custom sometimes apply only to some specified states. 

General Principles of law

These general principles of law deal with those issues which are not covered by treaties and international customs. These principles may evolve from municipal law or international law or procedural law or even from the machinery of the judicial process. The most important general principle of international law is good faith. This law governs the formation of legal obligations. It also leads to the foundation of treaty law. One more important general principle is equity which provides flexibility in the implementation and enforcement of international law.


Written by Yashika Jindal

Yashika is a second-year law student at UILS, Panjab University Chandigarh. She wants to a Judge so that she can serve society and bring a revolutionary change in the legal framework. She is a passionate and hard-working person who loves to learn new and innovative things. Apart from the law, she has a great interest in social work and music. She is always on the hunt for great opportunities that can help to develop her personality and legal skills.

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