International Court of Justice (ICJ)

International Court of Justice (ICJ)

What is ICJ?

  • The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the principal judicial organ of the UN.
  • It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946.
  • The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands).
  • Of the six principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York, United States.
  • The hearings of the ICJ are always public.
  • French and English are the official languages of the Court.
  • Powers and Functions:
    • 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).
    • Only States (which are 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.
    • Advisory proceedings before the Court are only open to five organs of the United Nations and 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations family or affiliated organizations.
    • The court’s judgments in contentious cases are final and binding on the parties to a case and without appeal.

What is the Structure of ICJ?

  • The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. These organs vote simultaneously but separately.
  • To be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes in both bodies.
  • To ensure a measure of continuity, one-third of the Court is elected every three years and Judges are eligible for re-election.
  • ICJ is assisted by a Registry, its administrative organ. Its official languages are English and French.
  • The 15 judges of the Court are distributed in the following regions:
    • Three from Africa.
    • Two from Latin America and the Caribbean.
    • Three from Asia.
    • Five from Western Europe and other states.
    • Two from Eastern Europe.
  • Unlike other organs of international organizations, the Court is not composed of representatives of governments. Members of the Court are independent judges whose first task, before taking up their duties, is to make a solemn declaration in open court that they will exercise their powers impartially and conscientiously.
  • To guarantee his or her independence, no Member of the Court can be dismissed unless, in the unanimous opinion of the other Members, he/she no longer fulfills the required conditions. This has never happened.

 ICJ’s Jurisdiction :

  • ICJ acts as a world court with twofold jurisdiction i.e. 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).
  • Only States which are members of the United Nations and which have become parties to the Statute of the Court or which have accepted its jurisdiction under certain conditions are parties to contentious cases.

ICJ’s Functioning:

  • 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. 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.
  • The judgment is final, binding on the parties to a case, and without appeal (at the most it may be subject to interpretation or, upon the discovery of a new fact, revision).
  • By signing the Charter, a Member State of the United Nations undertakes to comply with the decision of the Court in any case to which it is a party.
  • A State that considers that the other side has failed to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the Court may bring the matter before the Security Council, which is empowered to recommend or decide upon measures to be taken to give effect to the judgment.
  • The procedure described above is the normal procedure. However, the course of the proceedings may be modified by incidental proceedings.
  • ICJ discharges its duties as a full court but, at the request of the parties, it may also establish ad hoc chambers to examine specific cases.
  • Advisory proceedings before the Court are only open to five organs of the United Nations and 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations family or affiliated organizations.
  • Opinions provided by the court in advisory proceedings are essentially advisory and not binding

What are the Limitations on the Functioning of ICJ?

  • ICJ suffers from certain limitations, these are mainly structural, circumstantial, and related to the material resources made available to the Court.
  • It has no jurisdiction to try individuals accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. As it is not a criminal court, it does not have a prosecutor able to initiate proceedings.
  • It differs from the Courts which deal with allegations of violations of the human rights conventions under which they were set up, as well as applications from States at which courts can entertain applications from individuals, which is not possible for the International Court of Justice.
  • The jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice is general and thereby differs from that of specialist international tribunals, such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
  • The Court is not a Supreme Court to which national courts can turn; it does not act as a court of last resort for individuals. Nor is it an appeal court for any international tribunal. It can, however, rule on the validity of arbitral awards.
  • The Court can only hear a dispute when requested to do so by one or more States. It cannot deal with a dispute on its initiative. Neither is it permitted, under its Statute, to investigate and rule on acts of sovereign States as it chooses.
  • The ICJ only has jurisdiction based on consent, not compulsory jurisdiction.
  • It does not enjoy a full separation of powers, with permanent members of the Security Council being able to veto enforcement of cases, even those to which they consented to be bound.