International Court of Justice

Accessibility Options



Members of the Court

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 judges elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.  These organs vote simultaneously but separately.  In order to be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes in both bodies.  This sometimes makes it necessary for a number of rounds of voting to be carried out.

In order to ensure a measure of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years.  Judges are eligible for re-election.  Should a judge die or resign during his or her term of office, a special election is held as soon as possible to choose a judge to fill the unexpired part of the term. 

Elections are held in New York (United States of America) on the occasion of the annual autumn session of the General Assembly.  The judges elected at a triennial election enter upon their term of office on 6 February of the following year, after which the Court proceeds to elect by secret ballot a President and a Vice-President to hold office for three years.

All States parties to the Statute of the Court have the right to propose candidates.  These proposals are made not by the government of the State concerned, but by a group consisting of the members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (see History) designated by that State, i.e. by the four jurists who can be called upon to serve as members of an arbitral tribunal under the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.  In the case of countries not represented on the Permanent Court of Arbitration, nominations are made by a group constituted in the same way.  Each group can propose up to four candidates, not more than two of whom may be of its own nationality, whilst the others may be from any country whatsoever, whether a party to the Statute or not and whether or not it has declared that it accepts the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.  The names of candidates must be communicated to the Secretary-General of the United Nations within a time-limit laid down by him/her.

Judges must be elected from among persons of high moral character, who possess the qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to the highest judicial offices, or are jurisconsults of recognized competence in international law.

The Court may not include more than one national of the same State.  Moreover, the Court as a whole must represent the main forms of civilization and the principal legal systems of the world. 

In practice this principle has found expression in the distribution of membership of the Court among the principal regions of the globe.  Today this distribution is as follows:  Africa 3, Latin America and the Caribbean 2, Asia 3, Western Europe and other States 5, Eastern Europe 2, which corresponds to that of membership of the Security Council.  Although there is no entitlement to membership on the part of any country, the Court has always included judges of the nationality of the permanent members of the Security Council.

Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his own country nor of that of any other State.  Unlike most other organs of international organizations, the Court is not composed of representatives of governments.  Members of the Court are independent judges whose first task, before taking up their duties, is to make a solemn declaration in open court that they will exercise their powers impartially and conscientiously.

In order to guarantee his or her independence, no Member of the Court can be dismissed unless, in the unanimous opinion of the other Members, he/she no longer fulfils the required conditions.  This has in fact never happened.

No Member of the Court may engage in any other occupation during his/her term.  He/she is not allowed to exercise any political or administrative function, nor to act as agent, counsel or advocate in any case.  Any doubts with regard to this question are settled by decision of the Court.

A Member of the Court, when engaged on the business of the Court, enjoys privileges and immunities comparable with those of the head of a diplomatic mission.  In The Hague, the President takes precedence over the doyen of the diplomatic corps, after which precedence alternates between judges and ambassadors. Each Member of the Court receives an annual salary consisting of a base salary (which for 2010 amounts to US$166,596) and post adjustment, with a special supplementary allowance of US$15,000 for the President. The post adjustment multiplier changes every month and is dependent on the UN exchange rate between the US Dollar and the Euro. On leaving the Court, they receive annual pensions which, after a nine-year term of office, amount to 50 per cent of the annual base salary.

Although the Court is deemed to be permanently in session, only its President is obliged to reside in The Hague.  However, the other Members of the Court are required to be permanently at its disposal except during judicial vacations or leave of absence, or when they are prevented from attending by illness or other serious reasons.  In practice, the majority of Court Members reside in The Hague and all will normally spend the greater part of the year there.