How are judges elected to the International Court of Justice?

  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest judicial body having trans-national jurisdiction, is in the process of filling a clutch of vacancies, with the terms of five serving judges coming to an end. Dalveer Bhandari, an incumbent who represented India at the ICJ has been re-elected.
  • The import of India’s efforts at securing a place at the high table of global jurisprudence should be seen in the backdrop of the Kulbhushan Jadhav case, which is currently pending before the court.
  • Here is a brief history of the ICJ outlining how it functions, and also the procedure followed in electing judges .

What is the ICJ?

  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) started work in 1946, after half a century of international conflict in the form of two World Wars.
  • The ICJ has its seat at The Hague, the Netherlands, and has the jurisdiction to settle disputes between countries and examine cases pertaining to violation of human rights according to the tenets of international law. It is the judicial arm of the United Nations.
  • However, this was not the first effort at instituting a multilateral forum to settle trans-national disputes.
  • The ICJ was established in 1945 by the UN Charter following its precursor, the Permanent Court of International Justice, falling into desuetude owing to the inability to enforce its mandate, especially during the intervening war years.
  • Subsequently, the ICJ has passed many landmark judgements, but the execution of its verdicts have often been hindered by the skewed balance of power in the United Nations. 
  • The UN Security Council is authorised by Chapter XIV of the United Nations Charter to enforce Court rulings, but enforcement is subject to veto by permanent members of the Security Council.
  • Despite inadequacies in overturning the hurdles erected by members with veto power, the ICJ remains the apex court in settling disputes between nations.

How are judges elected?

  • The ICJ has a total strength of 15 judges who are elected to nine-year terms of office. They are elected by members of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, where polling takes place simultaneously but independent of each other. In order to be elected, a candidate must have an absolute majority in both bodies, which often leads to much lobbying, and a number of rounds of voting.
  • In order to ensure a sense of continuity, especially in pending cases, elections are conducted triennially for a third of the 15-member Court. Judges are eligible to stand for re-election.
  • Elections are held in New York during the autumn session of the United Nations General Assembly, and the elected judges enter office on February 6 of the subsequent year. After the Court is in session, a President and Vice-President are elected by secret ballot to hold office for three years.
  • If a judge were to die in office, resign, or be incapacitated to perform the duties expected of her, a special election is held as soon as possible to fill the vacancy for the unexpired duration of her tenure.
  • The Court also adheres to a rigid ethno-cultural matrix to ensure that it is representative of the ‘main forms of civilization and the principal legal systems of the world.’
  • This internal arithmetic is maintained at every election to the ICJ. Of the 15 judges, it is mandated that three should be from Africa, two from Latin America and the Caribbean, three from Asia, five from Western Europe and other states, and two from Eastern Europe.

How do member countries nominates judges?

  • All states party to the Statute of the Court are eligible to propose candidates.
  • The selection process is meant to be apolitical, and is made not by the government of the state concerned, but by the members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration designated by that state to represent its interests in the Court.
  • Each group can propose a maximum of four candidates, not more than two of whom may be citizens of the said country. The other two nominees may be from any country, even those that are not party to the Statute.

On what basis are judges elected?

  • It is held that all nominees should have a ‘high moral character,’ and credentials commensurate with those expected from the highest judicial officials of those countries. The Charter also makes it mandatory for judges to have recognised competence in international law.
  • Every judge receives an annual base salary of $172,978, with the President receiving a supplementary allowance of $15,000.
  • In order to keep the ICJ insulated from political influence, it is enshrined in the Charter that no judge can be dismissed, unless in the unanimous opinion of all peers, he is deemed to no longer fulfil the required conditions.
  • However, this has never happened in the 72-year history of the ICJ.


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