International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) is an international organization that functions as the judicial branch of the United Nations. The ICJ is sometimes called the World Court.  The ICJ was established in 1945 and has its headquarters at The Hague, Netherlands.  The ICJ began functioning from 1946.  The ICJ replaced the earlier similar court named Permanent Court of International Justice.  The ICJ uses two languages, English and the French.

The two main functions of the International Court of Justice are:

  1. Settles disputes which the member countries may bring before it.
  2. Gives opinions on legal matters.

The principal function of the ICJ is to decide the cases brought before it by a state, in accordance with international law.  If a State agrees to participate in a proceeding, it is obligated to comply with the Court’s decision. The Court also gives advisory opinions to the General Assembly and the Security Council on legal questions, and advisory opinions to other organs of the UN and specialized agencies that are authorized by the General Assembly to request them.

While deciding the case, the ICJ applies the principles of international law.  It also uses the laws of the civilized world including the civil and criminal law of major countries.  It may also refer to legal writings, law books, and earlier decisions while deciding any matter.

There are fifteen permanent judges in the International Court of Justice.  The judges are elected by the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council from a list of persons nominated by the national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The process for election of the judges is set out in Articles 4-12 of the statute of the International Court of Justice.

The serving term of the judges is nine year and thereafter they may be re-elected.  If a serving judge dies, another judge from that country is generally elected to fill the vacant position.  Since one third of judges retire every year, election takes place every third year.  This ensures continuity within the court.  Generally, five members of the Security Council of the United Nations always have a judge from their country.  These countries are China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

Appointment of ad hoc judges is sometimes allowed in the International Court of Justice.  This may happen in a case where the disputing countries nominate one judge each for that particular case.  However, this right to nominate is not available if that country already has a judge of its nationality in the International Court of Justice. Thus, sometimes seventeen judges may be deciding a case instead of fifteen.

There are specific rules that lay down the qualifications and conduct of the judges of the International Court of Justice.

Generally, all the judges of the International Court of Justice sit together to hear and decide any matter.  The Court usually holds plenary meetings, but it may from time to time form one or more chambers composed of three or more judges.  A judgment given by any of the chambers shall be considered as rendered by the Court.  Ad hoc chambers are also sometimes set up to hear and decide particular disputes.


Inside International Court of Justice