Assiduously promoted by international lawyers, legal institutions have increasingly come to replace democratic participation as a channel for the public accountability of the administrative state in the global South. This raises a fundamental question: can international lawyers hear the public and its voices? Should they? This special issue of the London Review of International Law poses these questions, focusing on the ways in which international lawyers have contributed to contemporary political crises – and whether and how they can listen to public perceptions of what they did wrong. The special issue encompasses papers on slavery, apartheid, and revolution, as legally-structured crises of public participation.