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Universal Jurisdiction: Building a Toolkit for Success

  • School: Nottingham Law School
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2023

Project ID: NLS2

States possess a right, under international law, to exercise universal criminal jurisdiction in relation to serious international crimes. Crimes such as genocide or crimes against humanity, when alleged to have been committed by a perpetrator of any nationality, and at any location in the world, are subject to the jurisdiction of every State. The principle remains controversial, however, being particularly contested by States who perceive their nationals to be at greater risk of such investigations and prosecutions. Academic debate is rich with commentary from both sides of the debate, with a range of theoretical justifications (and rebuttals), proposed practical benefits and obstacles, and differing interpretations of the relevant law, at both international and domestic levels.

Nevertheless the exercise of universal jurisdiction continues to be a reality.  Recent years have seen an uptick in prosecutions based in the principle of universal jurisdiction, with several European States closing successful prosecutions against in relation to crimes committed during Syrian civil war, while several States are now considering investigations into crimes allegedly committed in Ukraine. Evidence suggests that successful investigations and prosecutions based in the principle of universal jurisdiction proceed best under certain conditions, supported by ascertainable legal principles and agreeable political circumstances.

The proposed PhD research aims to build and make available a “toolkit” to help facilitate universal jurisdiction cases, thereby building and sustaining a viable subsidiary means for investigating and prosecuting international crimes that are unlikely to be punished in the State where the crimes occurred.  It is anticipated that the “toolkit” will assist States historically active in prosecuting such cases while also encouraging and assisting a greater number of States in pursuing similar actions.

Suggested contents are likely to include:

  • The theoretical underpinnings of, and rationale for, the principle of universal jurisdiction;
  • The position under international law;
  • The role of universal jurisdiction in relation to investigations or prosecutions elsewhere in the world (e.g. as a “subsidiary” form of jurisdiction);
  • Custodial prerequisites to investigation/prosecution, and the implications of this;
  • The role of universal jurisdiction as a catalyst for investigative activity elsewhere;
  • Proposals towards a “model law” that States may be able to adopt to facilitate universal jurisdiction investigations or prosecutions;
  • An analysis and compilation of “best practices” (the core of the proposed “toolkit”) from successful universal jurisdiction cases – this may consist of:
    • Investigative techniques;
    • Gathering of evidence;
    • Extradition and access to suspects;
    • Prosecutorial discretion;
    • Managing diplomatic fallout.

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

To make an application, please visit our studentship application page.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2023 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Application guidance can be found on our studentship application page.

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