World Court

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The World Court is the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). It was established in 1945 by the UN’s Charter, and it’s the only organ of the UN not located in New York City. Its seat is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands).

The World Court has fifteen judges elected for a nine-year term by the UN’s General Assembly and Security Council. Its official languages are English and French.

The World Court has two functions:

  • Contentious Cases: Only state members of the UN and other states which have become parties to the court’s statute, or which have accepted its jurisdiction may be part of contentious cases. The role of the World Court is to solve the legal disputes that arise between those states. The judgment issued by the court is final and binding on the parties. Therefore, there is no appeal. However, the rulings may be subject to interpretation or revision upon the discovery of new facts. To solve a contentious case, the World Court applies international treaties and conventions in force, international custom, the general principles of law, previous judicial decisions, and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists. By agreement of the parties to the case, the court may also decide ex aequo et bono, meaning that the judges may consider what’s fair and equitable for the case instead of applying the above-related sources.
  • Advisory Proceedings: Only five organs and sixteen specialized agencies of the UN’s family or affiliated organizations may request an advisory opinion to the World Court. The UN’s General Assembly and Security Council may request advisory opinions on any legal matter. Other UN organs and specialized agencies may request opinions about legal matters related to the scope of their activities. Advisory proceedings conclude when the World Court issues its advisory opinion at a public hearing. The opinions rendered by the World Court are not binding. Thus, the requesting organ, agency, or organization may or may not apply it. However, there are some international instruments and regulations that establish that an advisory opinion has a binding force.

[Last updated in August of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]