The theory of legal restraints: the actual limits of the judge’s lawmaking power from the perspective of the neorealist theory of interpretation

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The modern methodology of judicial interpretation is characterized by an apology of the realistic style of judicial interpretation. The basic theses of the realistic theory of interpretation are the voluntarism of the author of official interpretation and the lack of the function of a normative text which is different from that attached by the official interpretation. As these theses actually allow the sovereignty of the judiciary, the judicial realism faces a justified criticism. However, representatives of the French legal doctrine deny the tendency to form a new sovereign in the person of the judge and highlight special factors - legal restrains which are due to the configuration of the legal system restrain judges’ reasoning in practice, although they are not normative obligations. The article reveals the main points of the theory of legal restraints based on the works of French scholars in the theory and philosophy of law. Also, since the main tool of the realist theory of interpretation is an empirical approach, the provisions of the theory of judiciary restrains are tested on the example of the international justice practice - the European Court of Human Rights. In fact, we conclude that respect for the principle of subsidiarity and recourse to the European consensus can be seen as examples of legal restrains. As a result of the theory of judicial restrains analysis, the author agrees that although it complements the realist theory of interpretation and can act as a tool for studying political and legal discourse, it has certain limitations. For example, the theory of legal restraints offers no objective criteria for identifying and distinguishing them from the normative obligations of the author of interpretation, and is, in general, descriptive. Moreover, the nature of legal restraints shows that their observance remains at the discretion of the subject of interpretation and, therefore, they cannot completely exclude the possibility of his/her absolute discretion.

About the authors

Daria A. Fatalieva

Saint Petersburg State University

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7590-7868

Postgraduate student

7-9 Universitetskaya nab., Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russian Federation


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