The President and the Vice-President are elected by the Members of the Court every three years by secret ballot. The election is held on the date on which Members of the Court elected at a triennial election are to begin their terms of office or shortly thereafter. An absolute majority is required and there are no conditions with regard to nationality. The President and the Vice-President may be re-elected.
The President presides at all meetings of the Court; he/she directs its work and supervises its administration, with the assistance of a Budgetary and Administrative Committee and of various other committees, all composed of Members of the Court. During judicial deliberations, the President has a casting vote in the event of votes being equally divided.
In The Hague, where he/she is obliged to reside, the President of the Court takes precedence over the doyen of the diplomatic corps.
The President receives a special supplementary allowance of 15,000 dollars per annum, in addition to his/her annual salary.
The Vice-President replaces the President in his/her absence, in the event of his/her inability to exercise his/her duties, or in the event of a vacancy in the presidency. For this purpose he/she receives a daily allowance. In the absence of the Vice-President, this role devolves upon the senior judge.
On 6 February 2012 the Court elected Judge Peter Tomka (Slovakia) to be President and Judge Bernardo Sepúlveda-Amor (Mexico) to be Vice-President.
The following judges served as President or Vice-President before the present holders of those offices:
- 1946-1949 Guerrero and Basdevant
- 1949-1952 Basdevant and Guerrero
- 1952-1955 Sir Arnold McNair and Guerrero
- 1955-1958 Hackworth and Badawi
- 1958-1961 Klaestad and Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan
- 1961-1964 Winiarski and Alfaro
- 1964-1967 Sir Percy Spender and Wellington Koo
- 1967-1970 Bustamante y Rivero and Koretsky
- 1970-1973 Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan and Ammoun
- 1973-1976 Lachs and Ammoun
- 1976-1979 Jiménez de Aréchaga and Nagendra Singh
- 1979-1982 Sir Humphrey Waldock and Elias (Sir Humphrey Waldock died on 15 August 1981. The functions of the Presidency were thereafter exercised by Judge Elias as Acting President, by virtue of Articles 13 and 14 of the 1978 Rules of Court.)
- 1982-1985 Elias and Sette-Camara
- 1985-1988 Nagendra Singh and Ladreit de Lacharrière (Judge Ladreit de Lacharrière died on 10 March 1987. On 6 May 1987 the Court elected Judge Mbaye to be its Vice-President for the remainder of his predecessor’s term.)
- 1988-1991 J. M. Ruda and Mbaye
- 1991-1994 Sir Robert Jennings and Oda
- 1994-1997 Bedjaoui and Schwebel
- 1997-2000 Schwebel and Weeramantry
- 2000-2003 Guillaume and Shi
- 2003-2006 Shi and Ranjeva
- 2006-2009 Higgins and Al-Khasawneh
- 2009-2012 Owada and Tomka