The Elgar Companion to the International Court of Justice

The Elgar Companion to the International Court of Justice

Elgar Companions to International Courts and Tribunals series

Robert Kolb

The first in a series of Companions that offer broad coverage of a range of international courts and tribunals, The Elgar Companion to the International Court of Justice is a one-stop reference for those wishing to understand this highly significant and successful court.

Chapter 13: The jurisprudence of the ICJ

Robert Kolb

Subjects: law - academic, public international law, politics and public policy, international politics


Any institutional court of justice has a mission that goes beyond that of occasional arbitration tribunals. The latter are concerned essentially with achieving a satisfactory resolution of the dispute at hand; the court of justice is also concerned to develop a jurisprudence. It will make its approach predictable, coherent and continuous, and it will develop the body of law it administers in the sense of filling its gaps, clarifying its interpretation, adapting the law to the needs of changing times and ensuring its global coherence. The ICJ, as an institutional court, is no exception to this rule. A close analysis of the Court’s jurisprudence shows the degree to which it has been attentive in taking account of such aspects of legal policy beyond the simple resolution of single disputes. In this context, a unique feature of interstate adjudication at the ICJ should be noted and stressed. In the highest municipal law courts, a particular subject-matter will arise on a regular basis so that there are frequent occasions on which the law can be (re-)examined and restated. Indeed, it is rare that a certain factual situation will not come before the court for several years. This is not true for the ICJ. When a legal question appears before it, it may be decades before the same subject-matter returns to fall under the Court’s scrutiny. This, of course, is not true for all subject areas as those relating to the Court’s jurisdiction which arise regularly.

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