How the International Court of Justice Works

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). Established in 1945, the ICJ is located in The Hague, Netherlands, and has the mandate to settle legal disputes between states and to provide advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, or other authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.

Structure and Jurisdiction of the ICJ

The ICJ is composed of 15 judges elected by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council for a term of nine years. The judges must possess high moral character, as well as recognized competence in international law. The Court’s jurisdiction covers all legal questions, except those relating to individual criminal responsibility, and is based on the consent of the parties to the dispute.

The Court may hear cases between states, as well as between international organizations and states, and between international organizations themselves. The ICJ also provides advisory opinions to the UN and its specialized agencies on legal questions referred to it by them.

Proceedings in the ICJ

To file a case with the ICJ, a state must first agree to the Court’s jurisdiction. The case is then filed with the Court’s Registrar, who forwards it to the parties involved. Pre-trial procedures may include written submissions, oral hearings, and the presentation of evidence.

During oral proceedings, the parties involved in the case present their arguments before the Court. The ICJ then issues a judgment, which is binding on the parties involved in the case.

Enforcement of ICJ Decisions

The UN plays a role in the enforcement of ICJ decisions by requesting states to comply with the Court’s rulings. Compliance with ICJ judgments, however, is not always guaranteed, and some states have challenged the Court’s authority in certain cases.

Criticisms of the ICJ

The ICJ has been criticized for its decisions, particularly in cases involving territorial disputes and human rights. Critics argue that the Court has been influenced by political considerations in some of its decisions, and that its structure and procedures have not always been conducive to the effective resolution of disputes.


Despite its criticisms, the ICJ remains an important institution in the international community, providing a forum for the peaceful settlement of disputes between states. The Court’s work helps to promote the rule of law in international relations, and its continued existence is crucial to the maintenance of international peace and security.


  1. Can individuals file cases with the ICJ?
  • No, the ICJ only hears cases between states, and not between individuals or non-state actors.
  1. How are judges appointed to the ICJ?
  • Judges are elected by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council for a term of nine years.
  1. Are ICJ judgments binding on the parties involved?
  • Yes, ICJ judgments are binding on the parties involved in the case.
  1. What happens if a state refuses to comply with an ICJ judgment?
  • The UN may request that the state comply with the Court’s ruling, but enforcement measures are limited and depend on the willingness of the parties to comply.
  1. Can the ICJ hear cases involving non-UN member states?
  • Yes, the ICJ can hear cases involving any state that agrees to the Court’s jurisdiction. However, non-member states must first agree to submit to the Court’s authority before a case can be filed.