The International Academy of Comparative Law was founded at The Hague on 13 September 1924. The date itself is significant because it coincides with the prodigious movement towards a renaissance of law which followed World War I. That the Academy was founded in The Hague is also notable because that city had earlier been designated as the seat of the Permanent Court of International Justice and, in addition, was the place at which the Academy of International Law was founded. In a sense the establishment of both Academies at The Hague amounted to a reaffirmation of the idea that this city was a symbol of the protection of peace through law.

The Academy of International Law and the International Academy of Comparative Law have numerous points in common. Both organizations bring together jurists from all countries of the world. In addition, both undertake the universal diffusion of publications which take into consideration all legal orders and all legal systems of the world. But there are also differences: the Academy of International Law offers its famous summer courses, its Centre of Study and Research, as well as other programmes at The Hague and abroad, and has thus become a teaching and researching institution in the field of international law. Apart from its Curatorium and the Secretary-General, there are no members of the Academy of International Law. Conversely, the International Academy of Comparative Law is a body of scholars that primarily aims, according to article 2 of its Statutes, at “the comparative study of legal systems”, and it has currently more than seven hundred members. Furthermore, while our sister institution focuses its activities on international law, our Academy is interested in all legal disciplines under a comparative perspective.

For comparative law scholars it had turned out that coming together to exchange ideas would be most useful. As early as 1900, a congress of comparative law was held in Paris, organized by Edouard Lambert and Raymond Saleilles under the aegis of a French association, the Société de législation comparée.1 At the time, similar scientific organizations existed in the United States, Germany and Italy. The end of the war inevitably led to the coming together of comparative law scholars and the foundation of an international organization designed to unite the finest scholars, dedicated in their work to the cause of international cooperation and putting the respect of the differences on the forefront.

Elemer Balogh was the architect of this union and this account of the origins of the Academy affords an opportunity to pay homage to him. Overwhelmed by the misfortunes that had befallen his country, Hungary, after the war, he became a passionate promoter of the unification of all peoples. He believed, moreover, that jurists could be the cement of such a union. For more than thirty years, and in spite of the catastrophes provoked by the war of 1939-1945, Elemer Balogh served as the Secretary General of the Academy, thereby devoting his very life to the success of the institution of which he had been instrumental in establishing.

An historian by profession, Elemer Balogh understood that the historical method could easily be applied to the comparison of legal systems, and he demonstrated that an essential source of enrichment may be found in a combination of both the vertical and the horizontal studies of law through the comparative method. His successors as Secretaries General were Felipe de Solá Cañizares, Gabriel Marty, Roland Drago, and Jürgen Basedow, whose names are synonymous throughout the world with the success the Academy has achieved.

The names of those who have served as presidents of the organization are indicative of the prestige that the Academy has always enjoyed: André Weiss, Antonio Sánchez de Bustamante, Roscoe Pound, Jean Escarra, Louis Milliot, Baron Frédericq, C.J. Hamson, Imre Szabo, John Hazard, Paul-André Crépeau, Konstantinos Kerameus, George A. Bermann, and Katharina Boele-Woelki.


As pointed out above, the Academy is a body of scholars. According to its Statutes it is composed of Titular Members, elected by the Titular Members preceding them. Associate Members join the Titular Members to constitute the membership of the Academy. The group of Associate Members is not limited in number. They are elected by all preceding members, both Titular and Associate. The majority of members from both categories are academics but current members also include a number of judges of courts of supreme and international jurisdiction. This reflects the fact that the attention of the Academy is directed not only to scientific activity but also to the practice of law. Comparative law has, from its beginnings, always brought together teaching, research and practical concerns. As a result of a recent modification of the Statutes, the Academy has also opened its doors to well-respected Corporate Members, active in the field of Comparative Law. Several remarkable institutions have already joined the Academy and we are expecting the membership of others in the near future. 

National committees

Members stemming from the same jurisdiction form a committee. In most cases such committees are national by nature, but there may also be subnational committees acknowledged by the Academy where the legal order of a sub-unit of a nation has a sufficiently distinct character and autonomy. The same could be applied to legal orders issued from supranational entities. The Academy is a gathering of persons elected exclusively for scientific purposes and, consequently, no consideration of national or political factors has a bearing on their choice. It is nevertheless necessary, in view of the Academy’s international character, that the organization establishes a presence near the national and regional centres specializing in comparative law. This network encourages bonds of friendship and cooperation among comparative lawyers of many countries.


The Academy is no longer the same institution that it was at the time of its creation. In 1924, difficulties of travel were still significant and the Academy’s meetings often provided the only opportunity for jurists to meet. This situation has now changed for at least two reasons. First, in addition to the permanent on-line connection, specialists come together much more frequently, whether as individuals invited to teach abroad or as participants at bilateral meetings. Further, since international organizations specializing in different branches of law have multiplied, the Academy is no longer the sole forum for meetings of lawyers at the universal level. This has reduced the Academy’s significance in such fields of action, although for reasons of principle and in order to preserve its original vocation, the Academy still undertakes research in all fields of legal science without exception.

When it began its activities, the Academy was able to hold meetings annually. Later, the proliferation of academic events –typical of our times– compelled the Academy to limit itself to the primary activity of convening, at intervals of four years, the organisation of an International Congress of Comparative Law and of intermediate and thematic congresses half-way. However, the organisation of join activities with other institutions, taking advantage of common synergies, should not be discarded.

The first International Congress of Comparative Law was held at The Hague in 1932. The subjects were limited in number –exactly twenty, grouped in five sections (methodology, sources of law and history; civil law and procedure; commercial and intellectual property law; public and penal law; and international law). The second congress was also held at The Hague, this time in 1937.3 The war brought with it a suspension of activities and meetings were only resumed in 1950. The Congresses after the war were as follows: London (1950), Paris (1954), Brussels (1958), Hamburg (1962), Uppsala (1966), Pescara (1970), Teheran (1974), Budapest (1978), Caracas (1982), Sydney (1986), Montreal (1990), Athens (1994), Bristol (1998), Brisbane (2002), Utrecht (2006), Washington D.C. (2010), Vienna (2014) and Fukuoka (2018). The first intermediate and thematic Congress was held at Mexico City in 2008, the second took place in Taipei in 2012, the third in Motevideo in 2016, and the next one is expected to be held in Pretoria in 2021.

Currently the number of topics at each international congress has increased to about thirty. They touch on all major legal disciplines, approached form all possible perspectives. The selection of best topics continues to be a serious challenge. Obviously, it is necessary to pay attention to legal evolution, as well as to the arising of new fields, but also to the modifications of the many factors having an impact on the law. Thus, for instance, the unavoidable fact showing that the State is no longer the only legislator shall be taken into account when planning congresses and designating “special” reporters, who will not be always “national” reporters.


The body of knowledge contained in the General Reports and the National Reports to the congresses is published in three ways. Firstly, the local organisers of a congress edit a volume containing all general reports. Secondly, most general reporters undertake the laborious task of publishing thematic volumes that comprise their own general report and the national reports on their subject, thus providing legal scholars across the globe with a comparative survey of their topic. Ultimately, national committees in several countries collect the national reports from their jurisdiction and present them to the legal world in a volume of collected papers or in a special issue of a law journal. The website of the Academy tries to keep track with the numerous publications.


The Academy considers the stimulation of research in comparative law throughout the world to be its main role. In his famous article in the Mélanges Lambert, the great British comparatist Gutteridge emphasized three characteristics which he found to be central in comparative law: the importance of the discipline as a factor in relations among peoples; its utility for law reform, and its role in legal education. The Academy contributes to each of these three great facets of the discipline. Congresses of the Academy have reached to most parts of the globe: they took place in Europe until 1970; thereafter in Asia, in 1974, in 2012 and in 2018; in the Americas in 1982, 1990, 2008, 2010, 2016 and soon in 2022; in Australia in 1986 and 2002; and soon in Africa in 2021. The new Executive Committee has fixed among its main goals opening to Africa. This confirms the worldwide vocation of the Academy which, while evolving, has always sought to preserve the ideals that inspired its founders.