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The Working Mechanism of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by Sezen Özkalp

Hello everyone! Through this article, I will acquaint you with the working mechanism of the International Court of Justice. Before we get started, I would like to inform you that this article is about the actual International Court of Justice, not its Model United Nations version.



The International Court of Justice is one of the six main organs of the United Nations and it is responsible for jurisdiction. It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946. Even though all the other five principal organs of the UN are found in New York (USA), the Peace Palace of the court is located in The Hague (Netherlands). The official languages of the court are English and French.


A Permanent Court of International Justice was established along with the institution of the League of Nations by the Paris Conference after the First World War. However, the activity of PCIJ declined due to the international tension. The corruption and conclusion of the Second World War also put an end to the Permanent Court of International Justice. PCIJ was officially dissolved in April 1946 and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as the renovated version of PCIJ, had its first meeting.


Members of The Court: There are 15 judges in the Court who are elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Judges ad hoc: Parties of a contentious case are permitted to select another person to be a judge for only that case. These additional judges are named “Judges ad hoc”.

Presidency: The Presidency consists of the President and the Vice President who are elected by the members of the court every three years with a secret vote. The President chairs all meetings of the court and directs its work, oversees the management, and has a vote when the other votes are equal. The Vice President replaces the President in his/her absence and performs his/her duties.

Registrar: The Registrar has lots of diplomatic, administrative, and judicial duties but his/her principal responsibility is dealing with the registry affairs of the ICJ.


The International Court of Justice has two functions;
1. The first one is settling “Contentious Cases” which are legal disputes submitted by states.
2. The other role of the Court is to give advisory opinions regarding a legal topic when they are requested from the five principal organs or sixteen specialized agencies of the United Nations. This is named as “Advisory Proceedings”.


Even though the International Court of Justice does not have any privilege to enforce its jurisdiction, article 94 of the United Nations Charter states that all Member States have to comply with the decisions of the ICJ if they are parties in any case. ICJ decisions may as well be implemented through other organs of the UN.


There are three types of ICJ cases that can be on trial: contentious cases, incidental jurisdiction, and advisory opinions.


As I have mentioned previously, the court aims to settle legal disputes between states in contentious cases. Only states may be parties to these cases.

Sample contentious case: LaGrand (Germany v. the United States of America)
In 1999, Germany submitted a case against the United States of America in a dispute concerning alleged violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 24 April 1963. The reason why Germany filed this case was two German nationals (Karl and Walter LaGrand) being sentenced to death without being informed about their rights although it is required under Article 36, paragraph 1 (b), of the Vienna Convention. In 2001, the ICJ ruled in favor of Germany and rejected all arguments of the USA.


Until the Court reaches an official final judgment, they can implement some temporary measures to protect the rights of a party to a dispute if one party or both parties apply for it. For example, in the “Frontier Dispute” case both Mali and Burkina Faso applied for interim measures.


The General Assembly and the Security Council are granted to ask for advisory opinions from the ICJ upon a legal question. Other bodies of the UN may also request an advisory opinion from the ICJ if the GA allows them.
Advisory opinion sample: Advisory Opinion On the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons

On 3 September 1993, World Health Organization requested an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice which was denied due to the fact that WHO was acting outside its legal capacity. However, the General Assembly then asked for another advisory opinion on the same issue by asking “Is the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstances permitted under international law?” In the end, the court agreed that nuclear weapons are unlawful however it has unanimously been clarified that states need to negotiate and establish nuclear weapon disarmament.



a) The court can only deal with a case if the States accept its jurisdiction;
b) Since States do not have permanent representatives in the court, they communicate with the Registrar whereby their Minister for Foreign Affairs or their ambassador accredited to the Netherlands;
c) The Party States of the case are represented by agents who have counsel or advocates;
d) The court goes through oral and written phases;
e) The court delivers its jurisdiction in a public hearing.
***The procedure might be modified with incidental jurisdiction if requested.


a) The court receives a request for an advisory opinion from the principal or specialized UN bodies;
b) The court assembles and holds oral and written proceedings;
c) A list of states and organisations related to the issue is prepared;
d) Oral and written proceedings end;
e) Advisory proceedings culminate with the delivery of the advisory opinion.

REFERENCES (additionally, the subpages of this website are used as references)


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