Customary law is an alternative legal framework to statute or public law. In the past the existence of customary law was viewed as problematic due to the uncertainty which accompanies legal pluralism. Increasingly, scholars are recognizing legal pluralism as simply a reality to be negotiated, rather than a problem. One frequently proposed solution to the difficulties posed by the existence of customary law is to write it down, or ascertain it, in order to provide for legal certainty. This article addresses this goal in three parts. The first part describes customary law and how it functions in its uncodified form in post-colonial settings, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. The second part of the article details the reasons why scholars and public officials have often suggested writing customary law down as a solution and situates these arguments within the contemporary debate on legal pluralism. In the third section a specific case of written customary law, the Albanian Kanun of Lekё Dukagjini, is analyzed with a focus on its modern usage in a post-socialist context. The paper concludes noting that ascertainment does not bring legal certainty to customary law in the ways that are anticipated. Writing down an oral tradition or a practice may produce a document for reference, but this does not limit its use nor necessarily increase the predictability of its application. The article also emphasizes the role of customary law in defining group identity in post-socialist settings.

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Post-print Article

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Copyright © 2014 Routledge.

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DOI: 10.1080/07329113.2014.916090

Full Citation:

Joireman, Sandra F. "Aiming for Certainty: The Kanun, Blood Feuds and the Ascertainment of Customary Law." The Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 46, no. 2 (2014): 235-48. doi:10.1080/07329113.2014.916090.