Jurisdiction and Natural Law

Jonathan Crowe

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Positive law relies integrally on the notion of jurisdiction, according to which legal bodies may make decisions within their defined field of authority. This makes sense, because positive law itself is widely viewed as a product of socially recognised authorities; that being so, it is hard to see how it could exist without some prior conception of jurisdiction. Natural law theory, by contrast, holds that there are certain fundamental goods that humans are characteristically inclined to pursue and value
for their own sake, and these goods give rise to rules and principles that structure human societies.
Natural law, on this view, is a kind of law, but does it recognise the concept of jurisdiction? I will
argue that it does, albeit with some important limitations. Natural law theories historically recognise
the important role of social norms in coordinating collective action for the common good; these
standards hold normative force for the local community. Bodies that implement and enforce this
dimension of the natural law are jurisdictionally limited. However, this conception of jurisdiction
applies only to salient local norms; it does not cover those aspects of the natural law that apply
universally to humans by their shared nature. These universal aspects of natural law are valid
everywhere and are not jurisdictionally limited. It follows, I argue, that every practical decisionmaker, legal or otherwise, has jurisdiction to apply these laws; and no decision-maker has
jurisdiction to deny them. There are, then, two fundamental forms of jurisdiction: the local
jurisdiction involved in applying salient social norms; and the universal jurisdiction involved in
applying basic human rights and duties. These forms of jurisdiction do not rely on positive law; they
overflow the boundaries of human authority.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2019
EventTechnology and Jurisdiction in Outer Space and Cyberspace Colloquium - Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia
Duration: 9 Aug 20199 Aug 2019


ConferenceTechnology and Jurisdiction in Outer Space and Cyberspace Colloquium
CityGold Coast
Internet address


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