International Court of Justice [ICJ]: Functions, Composition, Jurisdiction, ICJ UPSC Notes

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also called the World Court, is one of the six main bodies of the United Nations (UN). The International Court of Justice is responsible for settling disputes between parties and following international law. It is an advisory body that tries to resolve international issues. The ICJ is the only international body that mediates between countries over disputes and is the only source of international law.

The ICJ headquarters are situated at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). The Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) is a predecessor to the International Court of Justice. This article covers all important details right from the functions of the International Court of Justice to its objectives, foundation, and current members, among other details.

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice is the judicial body of the United Nations. The International Court of Justice is one of the 6 primary bodies of the United Nations. The ICJ headquarters is located in Hague, Netherlands. The International Court of Justice is also the only UN body to not have its headquarters in the city of New York, unlike the five others.

Here are some other important facts to know about the ICJ:

  • The UN Charter of 1945 marks the establishment of the International Court of Justice. In 1946, it became functional and replaced the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), which had been instituted in 1922.
  • There were 193 members of the UN, which automatically became parties to the ICJ as well. Article 93 suggests a procedure for countries to become a member of the International Court of Justice even if they are not part of the UN.
  • The ICJ’s official languages are English and French.

Functions of the International Court of Justice

International Court of Justice is sometimes called the ‘World Court’, owing to its position as the judicial center for all international issues and disputes. The primary function of the International Court of Justice is to resolve disputes that are submitted to them by countries. They provide these resolutions in accordance with international law.

The ICJ is advisory in nature and hence, cannot reinforce its judgments on the countries. However, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has the authority to enforce these verdicts, as suggested by the UN Charter. The permanent members of the UN exercise veto power to such rulings.

The International Court of Justice is an important body of the UN. It functions in different ways:

  • The ICJ is the world’s court and operates with a two-fold model of jurisdiction.
  • It settles disputes between countries that have submitted their issues to them.
  • The International Court of Justice is also responsible for providing legal advice submitted by the UN organs and special agencies.

Jurisdiction of the ICJ

The ICJ has two types of jurisdictions:

Contentious cases

  • The ICJ follows international law to settle legal disputes that have been submitted to them by the states.
  • The application of the cases precedes the hearing of the cases.
  • The recognition of the ICJ’s jurisdiction is vital for any court proceedings to follow.
  • The Court’s judgment is final and binding on the parties. It doesn’t have the option to make an appeal.

Advisory opinions

  • This particular procedure is viable for the 5 UN bodies, 16 specialized bodies, and their associated affiliations.
  • There is a legal weight to the court’s verdicts, even when they aren’t legally binding.

There is also a classification between mainline and incidental jurisdictions.

  • Incidental Jurisdiction: This is related to matters of miscellaneous and interlocutory nature. For instance, the Court’s power to decide a dispute and its jurisdiction in a specific case, the Court’s authority over the proceedings, etc.
  • Mainline Jurisdiction: This concerns itself with the power extended by the court, the binding nature of the verdict, etc.

Composition of the International Court of Justice

There is a total of 15 judges in the International Court of Justice, each selected to serve a term of nine years by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. The judges are allowed to be re-elected. Elections are held every three years when one-third of the cabinet retires.

These 15 judges are distributed demographically and geographically;

  • Three judges come from Africa
  • Two judges from Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Five judges come from Western Europe and other states
  • Three judges from Asia
  • Two from Eastern Europe

For the successful election of a judge in the ICJ, there must be an absolute majority for a candidate in both organs of the UN.

  • The ICJ is not comprised of diplomats/representatives of different States like all international organizations. The judges in the ICJ are independent judges who take an oath for the fair use of their judicial powers to make impartial decisions.
  • For the complete independence of the judiciary, the dismissal of the judges can’t happen unless there is a unanimous vote from the other members of the Court. This has never happened in the history of ICJ.

Judges of the ICJ

The International Court of Justice has 15 members as judges at a time. However, the present cabinet has 14 members only. The names of the judges of the International Court of Justice have been enlisted below in the table:

Name Country
President Joan E. Donoghue (President) United States of America
Kirill Gevorgian


Russian Federation
Peter Tomka Slovakia
Ronny Abraham France
Mohamed Bennouna Morocco
Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf Somalia
Xue Hanqin China
Julia Sebutinde Uganda
Dalveer Bhandari India
Patrick Lipton Robinson Jamaica
Nawaf Salam Lebanon
Iwasawa Yuji Japan
George Nolte Germany
Hilary Charlesworth Australia

India and the International Court of Justice

There have been four judges of a total of Indian nationality in the International Court of Justice. The first Indian judge at the International Court of Justice was Sir Benegal Rau (1952-1953). He was followed by Nagendra Singh (1973-1988). Raghunandan Swarup Pathak served his term from 1989-1991.

Currently, Judge Dalveer Bhandari has been a Member of the International Court of Justice since 27 April 2012 and has been re-elected unanimously. His term ends in 2027.

International Court of Justice: Kulbhushan Jadhav Case

India has had a few brushes with the ICJ over the years. One such case was that of Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian naval officer, who was arrested by the security forces of Pakistan in March 2016 near the Balochistan province. He was accused of allegedly entering Iran.

The highlights from the case’s trajectory and verdict have been listed below:

  • Pakistani Military court sentenced Kulbhushan Jadhav to death on espionage charges along with terrorism charges in the April of 2017.
  • The ICJ stayed the Pakistani verdict in May 2018 making India move a petition before the UN to seek justice. India put forth a stance that alleged the Vienna Convention’s violation.
  • India stated that Pakistan’s custody of the Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav without any consular access was unlawful under the Vienna Convention. The International Court of Justice directed the Pakistani forces to hold off on the death sentence till Jadhav’s conviction was reviewed.
  • The ICJ asked for consular access to be arranged between New Delhi and Islamabad as soon as possible. This turned out to be a big diplomatic win for India. Pakistan obliged this request.
  • The International Court of Justice upheld that Pakistan had indeed violated the Vienna Convention’s Article 36 on Consular Relations of 1963 when they did not inform India of Jadhav’s arrest when they took him in custody.
  • There was deprivation in the right to communicate when India was not allowed connection with Jadhav, arrange for his legal representation, or visit him in detention.

Limitations of the International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice has some limitations which are mostly structural, circumstantial, and/or related to the availability of material resources to the Court.

  • The International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction over individuals who are accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is not a criminal court and hence, it cannot have a prosecutor to initiate proceedings.
  • National courts can’t turn to the ICJ as it is not an Apex court. It also is not a court that can serve as a last resort for countries. It is not an appeal court but can give rulings on the validity of the arbitration awards.
  • International Court of Justice does not have suo moto provisions and hence, cannot take up cases on will and has to be requested to do so by the States. It has no powers to investigate or rule on acts.
  • The ICJ’s jurisdiction is consensual and cannot be exercised on countries that don’t accept it.
  • There is no complete separation of powers as the Security Council’s permanent members can always veto the verdicts.

International Court of Justice UPSC

One of the six main UN bodies is the International Court of Justice, popularly known as the World Court. It provides advisory opinions on matters of international law and resolves disputes between governments in conformity with that law.
The International Court of Justice has been in the news for some time and thus makes it extremely relevant for the upcoming prelims exam. Candidates should follow appropriate magazines and UPSC books to study the topic.

ICJ UPSC Questions

Read all relevant facts about the topic by downloading the ICJ UPSC Notes given in the article. Candidates can also practice Previous Year’s Question papers to understand the types of questions asked in the exam.

Question: Headquarters of the International Court of Justice is located in: a) The Hague, Netherlands, b) Geneva, Switzerland, c) Avenue du Mont-Blanc, and, d) London, United Kingdom.

Answer:  The Hague, Netherlands

Question: The World Court or International Court of Justice is composed of: a) Ten judges, b) Sixteen judges, c) Twelve judges, and, d) Fifteen judges.

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