Essence, Existence and the Moaning of the Bar: In Memory of Judge James Crawford
The author with Professor James Crawford at the Hague Academy
Essence, Existence and the Moaning of the Bar: In Memory of Judge James Crawford

Essence, Existence and the Moaning of the Bar: In Memory of Judge James Crawford

The passing of one of the undisputable greats of international law, Judge (Professor) James Richard Crawford (1948 – 2021) who embodied a towering intellectual rigour with great good humour, generosity and warmth is a momentous loss to the world of international law.

Over the last few weeks, hundreds of distinguished colleagues and friends have written about Judge Crawford’s peerless contributions to the discipline of international law and the rich legacy he leaves behind, in his students, mentees and projects.

Judge Crawford’s brilliance lay not only in his compelling and powerful rigor and depth in scholarly writing, argument or drafting, but also in the breath-taking range of his interests outside of the law, spanning a love of poetry, theatre, music and literature that sparkled among his scholarly writings in the law. A poet among lawyers, his own poetry and his frequent references to poetry in his legal writing inspire and enable a kind of interdisciplinarity that suits the particular eccentricities of international law beautifully. It may be a matter of personal taste or the many years of teaching that shaped Judge Crawford’s personable and immediately attractive, anecdotal approach to subjects usually constructed as weighty discourses, but his particular brand of rigour with wit and a dash of literature thrown in for good measure speaks to the effortless dialogue between the law and its others by one who was truly a master of dialogue.

That the form, rules, grammar and prosody that animate the inner language of international law mimic, play with and often violate those same structures when played out in argument and writing is one of the particularities that draws those with a fondness for interdisciplinarity to the discipline. Professor Crawford’s short but sparkling poem on Article 103 of the Charter of the United Nations was one of the all-time high points of the summer of 2013, when he led, with gentle friendship and an overall warmth, the Hague Academy’s General Course on international law at the hallowed Hague Academy Summer Programme. Among the thronging representation of nationalities and languages that summer, the clear, deliberate voice of Professor Crawford whose eclectic and brilliant references, from Thucydides’ The History of the Pelopponesian War to discuss the realist challenge to international law, Nietzche’s 1885 Thus Spoke Zarathustra to describe the state as a ‘cold monster (conscious of having a duty)’, Völuspá, from the Poetic Edda preserved in the Icelandic Codex Regius (1270) and translated operatically by Richard Wagner to his ‘Twilight of the Gods’ to discuss Lauterpacht’s belief that international community is the true basis of international law, to his own poem on the perils and pitfalls of the now-famous Mr. Kadi, wandering through a wadi… in order to discuss the extraordinary nature of Article 103 of the UN Charter – the range of his examples and anecdotes, from his own rich career in knowing intimately almost all the major cases in international litigation and arbitration, made for an unforgettable summer. Most importantly though, Professor Crawford was eminently approachable, unbelievably kind and generous with mentorship of younger scholars, and laughed often.

It is unsurprising then that his passing opened a flood of remembrance messages and condolences from friends, colleagues, students and mentees – the invisible college of international law – whose strange intimacies across continents, languages, cultures, and even specific practice areas comes together around a shared passion for the discipline. Schachter’s enduring term, the invisible college truly encapsulates the spirit of the extraordinary contribution spanning across practice and scholarship that James Crawford made to the discipline. If cross fertilization, conscience juridique and a transcontinental sense of legislative purpose capable of influencing the progress of international law almost to the exclusion of the sovereign states that constitute its realm, is the quality that best defines the invisible college of international lawyers, Judge Crawford was certainly its most visible member.


Rashmi Raman is an Associate Professor of Law and Assistant Director at the Center of International Legal Studies at the Jindal Global Law School. At Jindal Global Law School, she teaches compulsory courses in Public International Law, including International Human Rights Law & Theory and International Trade Law.


Suggested citation: Essence, Existence and the Moaning of the Bar: In Memory of Judge James Crawford, JURIST – Academic Commentary, July 19, 2021,

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