International Court of Justice

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice: 


International Court of Justice is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN). It settles disputes between states in accordance with International Law and gives advisory opinions on international legal issues. The ICJ is the only International court that adjudicates general disputes between countries, with its rulings and opinions serving as primary sources of International law.

The ICJ is the successor of the permanent court of Justice (PCIJ), which was established in 1920 by the League of Nations. After the Second World War, both the League and the Permanent Court of Justice were replaced by the United Nations and ICJ, respectively. The Statute of the ICJ which sets forth its purpose and structure, draws heavily from that of its predecessor, whose decisions remain valid.

All member states of the United Nations are party to the ICJ Statute and may initiate contentious cases; however, advisory proceedings may only be submitted by certain UN organs and Agencies.

The Statute of the ICJ:

The Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) counted on historical antecedents to be kept in mind, in particular in respect of the Statute of its predecessor, the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ). The PCIJ was created under the auspices of the League of Nations pursuant to Article 14 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.

The Council of the League of Nations had been entrusted with the project for the establishment of the PCIJ. In early 1920, an Advisory Committee of Jurists was appointed, to prepare and submit a report concerning the establishment of the PCIJ. In June-July 1920, a draft scheme was prepared by the Advisory Committee and then submitted to the Council of the League of Nations, which, upon its examination, laid it before the first Assembly of the League of Nations.

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The Third Committee of the first Assembly, after studying the matter, submitted, in December 1920, a revised draft to the League’s Assembly, which adopted it unanimously; that revised draft thus became the Statute of the PCIJ.  The International Court of Justice consists of a panel of 15 judges elected by the UN General Assembly and Security Council for nine-year terms.

No more than one judge of each nationality may be represented in court at the same time, and judges collectively must reflect the principal civilizations and legal systems of the world.

Seated in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, the ICJ is the only principal UN organ not located in New York City. Its official working languages are English and French. Since the entry of its first case on 22 May 1947, the ICJ has entertained 181 cases through September 2021.

Vision and role: 

The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies. The 15-member ICJ, or World Court, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, seated at The Hague in the Netherlands.

It is charged with settling legal disputes submitted to it by states and giving advisory opinions on legal questions from U.N. bodies and agencies. This main body of the UN settles legal disputes submitted to it by States in accordance with international law. It also gives advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it from authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.

Members and region: 

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 judges elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.

These organs vote simultaneously but separately. In order to be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes in both bodies. This sometimes makes it necessary for a number of rounds of voting to be held.

In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one-third of the Court is elected every three years. Judges are eligible for re-election. Should a judge die or resign during his or her term of office, a special election is held as soon as possible to choose a judge to fill the unexpired part of the term.

Elections are held in New York (United States of America) during the annual autumn session of the General Assembly.

The judges elected at a triennial election commence their term of office on 6 February of the following year, after which the Court holds a secret ballot to elect a President and a Vice-President to hold office for three years.

All States’ parties to the Statute of the Court have the right to propose candidates. Such proposals are made not by the government of the State concerned, but by a group consisting of the members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (see History) designated by that State, i.e. by the four jurists who can be called upon to serve as members of an arbitral tribunal under the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.

In the case of countries not participating in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, nominations are made by a group constituted in the same way. Each group can propose up to four candidates, no more than two of whom may be of its own nationality, while the others may be from any country whatsoever, regardless of whether it is a party to the Statute or has declared that it accepts the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

The names of candidates must be communicated to the Secretary-General of the United Nations within a time limit of his/her choosing.

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How the Court Works:

The Court may entertain two types of cases: legal disputes between States submitted to it by them (contentious cases) and requests for advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by United Nations organs and specialized agencies (advisory proceedings).

Contentious cases:

Only States (States Members of the United Nations and other States which have become parties to the Statute of the Court or which have accepted its jurisdiction under certain conditions) may be parties to contentious cases.

The Court is competent to entertain a dispute only if the States concerned have accepted its jurisdiction in one or more of the following ways:

  • by entering into a special agreement to submit the dispute to the Court;
  • by virtue of a jurisdictional clause, i.e., typically, when they are parties to a treaty containing a provision whereby, in the event of a dispute of a given type or disagreement over the interpretation or application of the treaty, one of them may refer the dispute to the Court;
  • through the reciprocal effect of declarations made by them under the Statute, whereby each has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court as compulsory in the event of a dispute with another State having made a similar declaration. A number of these declarations, which must be deposited with the United Nations Secretary-General, contain reservations excluding certain categories of dispute.

States have no permanent representatives accredited to the Court. They normally communicate with the Registrar through their Minister for Foreign Affairs or their ambassador accredited to the Netherlands. When they are parties to a case before the Court they are represented by an agent. An agent plays the same role, and has the same rights and obligations, as a solicitor or avoué in a national court.

However, since international relations are at stake, the agent is also as it were the head of a special diplomatic mission with powers to commit a sovereign State. He/she receives communications from the Registrar concerning the case and forwards all correspondence and pleadings, duly signed or certified, to him. In public hearings, the agent opens the argument on behalf of the government he/she represents and lodges the submissions.

In general, whenever a formal action is to be done by the government represented, it is done by the agent. Agents are sometimes assisted by co-agents, deputy agents, or assistant agents and always have counsel or advocates, whose work they co-ordinate, to assist them in the preparation of the pleadings and the delivery of oral argument. Since there is no special International Court of Justice Bar, there are no conditions that have to be fulfilled by counsel or advocates to enjoy the right of pleading before it, the only exception being that they must have been appointed by a government to do so.

International Court of Justice

Proceedings may be instituted in one of two ways:

  • Through the notification of a special agreement: this document, which is bilateral in character, can be lodged with the Court by either or both of the State’s parties to the proceedings. A special agreement must indicate the subject of the dispute and the parties thereto. Since there is neither an “applicant” State nor a “respondent” State, in the Court’s publications their names are separated by an oblique stroke at the end of the official title of the case, e.g., Benin/Niger.
  • By means of an application: the application, which is unilateral in character, is submitted by an applicant State against a respondent-State. It is intended for communication to the latter State and the Rules of Court contain stricter requirements with regard to its content. In addition to the name of the party against which the claim is brought and the subject of the dispute, the applicant State must, as far as possible, indicate briefly on what basis – a treaty or a declaration of acceptance of compulsory jurisdiction – it claims that the Court has jurisdiction, and must succinctly state the facts and grounds on which its claim is based. At the end of the official title of the case, the names of the two parties are separated by the abbreviation v. (for the Latin versus), e.g., Nicaragua v. Colombia.

Reported by Hamidova Alsu from the Republic of Azerbaijan. She is studying at Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University. She is interested in International relations, and diplomacy. She is also a member of the youth diplomacy forum and a representative from Azerbaijan in the youth diplomacy forum. 


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