International Court of Justice

primary judicial organ of the United Nations

The International Court of Justice [French: La Cour internationale de justice (CIJ)], is an international organization. It is the main judicial organ or branch of the United Nations. In short, International Court of Justice is ICJ; sometimes people call it the World Court. In French language, it is Cour internationale de justice. Established ICJ in 1945, ICJ has its headquarters at The Hague, Netherlands. The ICJ began its working from 1946. It replaced an earlier similar court named Permanent Court of International Justice. The International Court of Justice is different from the International Criminal Court. The ICJ uses two languages, the English language and the French language.

Emblem of the International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice has two major functions. Firstly, it settles disputes, which the member countries may bring before it. Secondly, it may give its opinions on legal matters. Since 1980s, many developing countries have been using the services of the ICJ. But, in 1986, the United States of America did not accept the court’s views on all matters, but rather selectively, on a case-to-case basis. Since the year 2000 the docket went down from 23 to 12 cases. In the meantime the staff tripled.



The ICJ has fifteen permanent judges. The UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council elects the judges. A judge serves for a nine-year period and may be re-elected if necessary. If a serving judge dies, another judge, from the same country he or she belonged to is generally elected to fill the vacant position. Elections are staggered, thus five judges (one-third of the Court) come up for election every three years.

The fifteen permanent judges are elected from a list of persons nominated by the national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The election process is set out in Articles 4-12 of the ICJ statute 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.

In some case, the ICJ allows Ad hoc judges. Thus, the countries in dispute have a right to nominate one judge each for that particular case, if desired. This right is not available if that country already has a judge of its nationality in the ICJ. Thus, sometimes, instead of fifteen, seventeen judges may be deciding a case.

There are many rules, which lay down the qualifications and conduct of the judges of the ICJ.



Generally, all the judges of the ICJ sit together to hear and decide any matter. However, sometimes smaller chambers of three to five judges hear and decide a case. Such chambers may be for special types of cases. Sometimes, the ICJ sets up ad hoc chambers to hear and decide particular disputes.

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


Further reading

  • Rosenne S, Rosenne's the world court: what it is and how it works 6th ed (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 2003).

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