The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial court of the United Nations. It is located at the Peace Palace in The Hague (the Netherlands). The ICJ has the power to hear two kinds of cases:

  • Cases between states
  • Any cases requested by specialized agencies of the United Nations

The Court was created to settle legal disputes within the boundaries of international law submitted to it by states. It also gives advisory opinions regarding legal questions referred to it by authorized international organizations and agencies.

Who Presides over the ICJ?

The ICJ is composed of 15 judges, serving nine-year terms. These judges are elected by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. The ICJ may not include more than one judge of any nationality. When elected, the judges are independent magistrates and do not represent their governments.

How Do Cases between States Arise?

First, only States may apply to and appear before the ICJ. The Court may hear a case only if the States have accepted its jurisdiction in one or more of the following ways:

  • Special agreement between them to submit the dispute to the Court
  • Jurisdictional clause (i.e. in treaties or conventions)
  • Declarations made by them

If the court has jurisdiction, the parties will then file and exchange pleadings and then proceed to public hearings. After the proceedings, the Court deliberates and delivers its judgment (which is final). If one of the States fails to comply with the decision, the other may have recourse with the Security Council. The Court makes its decisions in accordance with international treaties and conventions in force, international custom, general principles of law, and sometimes judicial decisions and teachings.

What is an Advisory Opinion?

Advisory opinions are only available to international organizations. Only five organizations of the United Nations and 16 specialized agencies of the U.N. family are authorized to request advisory opinions. The ICJ will decide which States and organizations might provide useful information. It then gives them an opportunity of presenting written or oral statements. The ICJ’s advisory opinions are consultative and not binding on the requesting bodies.

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced with International Law?

A government lawyer experienced with international law may be able to inform you of the existence and the functions of the ICJ. However, it is not likely that you will have any contact or dealings with the Court, as its jurisdiction is very limited.