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International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the judicial wing of the United Nations (UN).  It is seated in the Peace Palace, the Hague, Netherlands.  The ICJ is also called World Court because its duty is to settle legal disputes submitted to it by member states and to give advice and answer legal questions submitted to it by international organs, agencies, and the UN General Assembly.

The UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council elect the judges of the ICJ.  The ICJ has 15 judges elected for a nine year term from a list of persons nominated by the national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

According to article 93 of the UN charter, all UN members are automatically parties to the ICJ’s jurisdiction.  However, non-UN states can also become parties to ICJ by complying with the procedure laid down in article 93(2).  All member states have to comply with the decisions of the ICJ.  In case of non compliance, the parties will be referred to the Security Council for enforcement action. The ICJ applies international in deciding disputes.  The law as applicable is summarized in article 38 of the ICJ statute and it is based on international conventions, international custom, and the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.

The ICJ’s court procedure is set out in the Rules of Court of the International Court of Justice, 1978.  The basic procedure followed in the ICJ is as follows:

  1. A case is lodged by the applicant by filing a written memorial setting out the basis of the Court’s jurisdiction and the merits of its claim.
  1. The respondent state(s) may or may not accept the Court’s jurisdiction. If they accept, they should file their own memorial on the merits of the case. If not, they should raise Preliminary Objections.  Often a separate public hearing is held on the Preliminary Objections and the Court will render a judgment.
  2. If the Court decides it has jurisdiction and the case is admissible, the respondent will then be required to file a Memorial addressing the merits of the applicant’s claim.
  3. Once all written arguments are filed, the Court will hold a public hearing on the merits.
  4. If the ICJ is satisfied that it has prima facie jurisdiction to hear the merits of the case, article 41 allows the ICJ to issue interim or provisional measures to protect status quo submitted by either of the parties.  The measures are analogous to interlocutory injunctions in United States law.
  5. After deliberation, the court will issue a majority opinion. Individual judges may issue separate opinions (if they agree with the outcome reached in the judgment of the court but differ in their reasoning) or dissenting opinions (if they disagree with the majority).  ICJ’s decision is not appealable.  However, the parties can ask the court to clarify if there is a dispute as to the meaning or scope of the court’s judgment.

Official website of the ICJ

Inside International Court of Justice