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International Court of Justice: what it is, how it works and rulings

The International Court of Justice (also called the World Court of Justice) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and is based in the Dutch city of The Hague, more precisely in the Peace Palace.

This organ, created after the dissolution of the Permanent Court of Justice, was created in 1945 with the Charter of the United Nations and began its work in April 1946. In the early years of the Court’s ‘life’, however, the scene underwent major changes that strongly influenced their work.

In this context, relying on an Italian and International Criminal Lawyer ILA experienced in defending before the International Court of Justice may undoubtedly prove to be the best choice.

The Italian and International Criminal Law Firm ILA is equipped with skilled professionals who deal specifically with national and international law in order to ensure the protection of their clients’ interests before any Judicial Authority, including international ones.

As explained above, the International Court of Justice is an organ of the United Nations (the only one of its main organs not based in New York).

The United Nations Organisation is a union of 193 states whose membership is voluntary; it was founded in 1945 after World War II with the ultimate aim of strengthening international peace, security and good relations between states.Over the years, other purposes, such as the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the promotion of international economic, social, cultural and public health, have been added to these aims.

The international jurisdictional function of the Court is arbitral in nature, i.e., it is a means of resolution that is based on the will of states (voluntarist foundation) to submit a dispute that has arisen between them to arbitral decision; these, therefore, have the freedom to submit the dispute to the International Court’s consideration, provided they later agree to accept the respective decision as binding.

On 25 November 2014, Italy deposited with the UN Secretary-General the declaration of acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, provided for in Article 36 of the Statute of the Court.

Functions of the World Court of Justice

To better understand the functions of this body, it is necessary to distinguish between two different functions.

  1. The judicial function in contentious matters concerning the interpretation and application of international law. Regarding this function, Article 36 of the Statute states that: ‘the jurisdiction of the Court shall extend to all disputes submitted to it by the parties and to all cases expressly provided for in the Charter of the United Nations or in treaties and conventions in force’.

  2. The advisory function: the Court’s main task is to settle disputes between States and to express opinions, by means of the so-called ‘consultative opinion’, on relevant issues of international law.


Among the most recent and significant decisions of the Court is the Jadhaw case (India v. Pakistan) in which it granted India’s request for provisional measures, halting the execution of the death penalty against an Indian citizen in Pakistan. This citizen had been sentenced to death but had not been able to avail himself of the right to notify his consul once he was arrested, and India accused Pakistan of violating the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Differences between the International Court of Justice and other Courts

It is worth pointing out that the International Court of Justice is different from other Courts that are also based in the Dutch city of The Hague. These courts are the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, established by the Security Council to prosecute crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, and above all the International Criminal Court.

The fundamental difference between these three judicial bodies lies in the fact that, while the International Court of Justice settles disputes between states, the other two courts have the task of trying individuals on charges concerning the commission of international crimes (say genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity).

In the case of the World Court of Justice, therefore, there is no question of individual responsibility.

Our Italian and international criminal law firm has its roots in Italy but also throughout the country and internationally.

Moreover, ILA is constantly updating our international criminal lawyers, which allows us to provide our clients with adequate answers to any problem that concerns the legal sector also with specific reference to international law!

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How the International Court of Justice works

To understand the functioning of the ICJ, it is essential to refer to its most important instrument, namely the Statute. The latter is an integral part of the UN Charter and consists of 70 articles, divided into five ‘chapters’.

On the basis of the powers conferred by the UN Charter, the International Court of Justice drafted the Rules of the Court, with the aim of supplementing and clarifying the functioning of the body. Of course, over the years, in order to speed up certain proceedings, the Rules of the Court have been subject to amendments.

The World Court of Justice is composed of 15 judges, who have a 9-year term of office, renewable, and are elected simultaneously, in separate houses, by the General Assembly and the Security Council; the 15 judges always include 5 from the Permanent Member States of the Security Council (although this is not explicitly stated anywhere).

In general, the members of the Court should not represent their home state during their tenure on the body, but rather should operate with extreme independence. However, when the Court has to settle a dispute between states and the parties to the dispute do not have a judge of their own nationality, the states concerned have the right to appoint an ad hoc judge.

The origin of the judges is usually as follows: 3 judges from Africa, 2 from Latin America, 3 from Asia, 5 from Western Europe and the ‘other Western States’ (Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand), and 2 from Eastern Europe (including Russia).


The judges appoint a president (whose role is currently held by Abdul Qawi Ahmad Yusuf) who is the only one who must permanently reside in The Hague.

The technical procedure followed by the Court in proceedings is defined by its Statute (the most recent version of which is dated December 2000)

The proceedings consist of a written phase, in which the parties submit applications and exchange pleadings (reply briefs), and an oral phase, which takes the form of public hearings in which agents and counsel address the Court. Since the Court uses two official languages, which are English and French, anything written or said in another language is translated.

The latter is precisely one of the many reasons why International Lawyers Associates can be useful. Criminal Lawyer Alexandro Maria Tirelli, coordinator of International Lawyers Associates, is not only well known for a long career marked by great successes in the international professional field, but is also supported by direct knowledge of Spanish, Portuguese, French and English.

Such a demanding subject, which is related to international issues, requires experience and seriousness: it is better to rely on true professionals.

At the end of the oral proceedings, the Court retires to the council chamber to deliberate on the operative part, which once read in open court is final and without appeal. If one of the parties does not comply with the decision, the other may appeal to the UN Security Council.

Only states can be parties to a trial before the Court. A necessary condition for the exercise of the litigation function is that there is a dispute and that the parties have accepted the jurisdiction of the World Court to settle it.

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Pronouncements of the International Court of Justice since 1946

Since 1946, the Court has handed down 90 judgmentson issues concerning: land and maritime borders between states, territorial sovereignty, non-use of force, non-interference in the internal affairs of states, diplomatic relations, the taking of hostages, the right of asylum, nationality, the protection of absolute rights, the right of passage and others of an economic nature.

It decides in accordance with existing conventions, international customs, general principles of international law and all other appropriate sources.

Since its establishment, the ICJ, with no less than 25 advisory opinions, has ruled on various issues: the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall in part of the Palestinian occupied territories, the admission of a state as a member of the UN, compensation for damages suffered in the service of the UN, the territorial status of South West Africa and Western Sahara, judgments rendered by international administrative courts, the costs of certain UN operations, reports on the human rights situation, and the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons.

In this context, the Italian and International Criminal Law Firm ILA can perform, through its serious and capable professionals who deal specifically with national and international law, a fundamental function of support and advice for all types of disputes.