International Court of Justice Overview

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), sometimes referred to as the World Court, is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. It sits in The Hague, Netherlands and is composed of fifteen independent Justices from around the world. The ICJ is the only court in the world with general and near-universal jurisdiction; countries may bring cases before the Court even without becoming United Nations Member States, as long as both countries have consented to be subject to the Court’s jurisdiction. It may entertain any question of international law, subject to the provisions of its founding statutes.

The Court’s role is to examine international law and to settle legal disputes submitted to it by states. It also dispenses advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies. Since 1946, the Court has heard more than 160 cases, including more than 25 advisory proceedings. ICJ opinions, unlike most national legal systems, do not create binding legal requirements on other United Nations Member States, and cases are generally treated independently of one another.

The Justices are nominated by regional groups and elected by the General Assembly and Security Council for nine-year terms. Justices must receive a majority vote in each body to be named to the Court, and one third of the Court is elected every three years. When a state is party to a case before the ICJ, it enjoys the right to appoint an ad hoc justice. The ad hoc Justice does not need to be from that State. The ad hoc Justice enjoys the same privileges and responsibilities as the other Justices, but his or her obligation is limited to proceedings in that case.

Unlike most other international organizations, the members of the Court are not representatives of governments; they are independent judges whose first duty is to exercise their powers impartially and conscientiously in the Court.

Proceedings before the Court can last for years, involving complex issues of international law as well as difficult political questions. The States party to the case submit pleadings, or memorials, in writing along with extensive records supporting their cases. The States also participate in oral arguments, which allow States to explore the case and respond to questions from the Justices. The Justices deliberate in private, then read the judgment in an open forum.

Common Types of Cases

The Court hears two types of cases. First, there are contentious cases between two States where there is a legal dispute and the States parties are bound to the Court’s decision. States may institute proceedings by mutual agreement or by unilateral application against a respondent State. This is different from the International Criminal Court, which hears cases against individuals for crimes such as genocide.

Many of the Court’s cases—historical and contemporary—are border or territorial disputes, where two States agree to let the ICJ decide where the border should be. Other cases are highly charged and quite political in nature—it is rare that the interpretation and application of the law operates entirely outside of the realm of political discourse, and in the international arena, this is especially true.

Second, the Court can issue advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by other agencies, such as the Security Council or the General Assembly. This opportunity is open to the five major organs of the United Nations and 16 other specialized agencies. Unlike the rulings in contentious cases, advisory opinions are not binding on the parties that request the opinion; the organization is under no legal obligation to follow the Court’s recommendation. The Court requests written and oral proceedings for the case, although these processes may be truncated when compared to the process used for contentious cases.

Structure of the ICJ for GUNA

HS Program | Best for Experienced Delegates | Grades 10-12
Teams of 2 students per school
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is one of the principal bodies of the UN. It mediates disputes between UN member states (countries), and provides advice to the General Assembly on issues relating to international law. There are a limited number of spaces for ICJ teams at each GUNA, reserved on a first-come, first-served basis based on registrations.

The ICJ does not put individuals on trial; only member states of the UN may participate in the proceedings of the court. States may present cases on behalf of other entities (e.g. companies or groups of people within their own jurisdictions).

The ICJ hears two kinds of cases:

  • Contentious Cases: Cases in which two or more states are in disagreement about a point of International Law or treaty requirements. The ICJ may exercise its jurisdiction in such cases only if both states agree to such jurisdiction, or if the provisions of the treaty in question include a clause granting the ICJ jurisdiction in case of conflict.
  • Advisory Cases: The General Assembly, and other bodies of the United Nations, may request Advisory Opinions from the Court in order to clarify a point of International Law or procedure. Such cases are not directed at specific states, although the decision of the court theoretically applies to all states within the United Nations.

As we are introducing the program the 2023 program year, we will only hear Advisory Cases.  At the 2024 Conference, we will have both types of cases.

ICJ teams will be assigned one side of either an Advisory Case or a Contentious Case. Each team will present between 2-3 rounds of oral arguments based on the case they are assigned. ICJ Presidents & Justices will hear the oral arguments and score each team.

For more information, be sure to check out the GUNA Resources Page.

Delegate Roles

All ICJ delegates serve as Advocates in teams of 2. Each ICJ team will be assigned (1 month prior to GUNA) the applicant or respondent position for either the Advisory or Contentious Case. Your team will have 15 minutes to present your side of your assigned case. If you are serving as the Applicant, you will be able to reserve up to 5 minutes of that time for a rebuttal (closing argument).

Supporting Officers

Members of the Court (2)
Application | Open to Experienced Delegates (Gr. 10-12)

  • Must attend Supporting Officer Training prior to GUNA
  • Must review and understand their assigned case in addition to preparing lines of questioning for the applicants and respondents on the case.
  • Judges will act as leaders for the ICJ, helping lead scoring and asking questions of the advocates that pertain to the case.
  • 2 Judges will hear Advisory Cases with one ICJ President, and (in future years) 2 will hear Contentious Cases with the other ICJ President

Presiding Officers

ICJ Presidents (1)
Chosen by GCCE Staff

The ICJ is presided over by the ICJ Presidents. Each President will be assigned one of the cases, and will preside over hearings with those delegates serving as Justices for that case. The Presidents will be help organize and facilitate the Deliberations following each hearing.


ICJ Resources

  • Program Guide – This will guide you through the entire ICJ program.
  • Preparation Calendar – This calendar is designed to make the ICJ program preparation more manageable from advocates of all experience levels. Although this schedule is not a requirement, it has been designed by veterans of the program who highly recommend a schedule similar to this.
  • Court Procedure – The ICJ procedure is the word-for-word procedure that will be used at KUNA to guide all competition rounds. Use this to practice before GUNA in order to immerse yourself
  • Memorial & Oral Argument Samples – These resources are designed to serve as templates for advocates to base their memorials and speeches upon.
  • IRAC Worksheet – This is a tool that can be used when reading the provided case opinions. As you read the opinions, take notes on important points and quotes that will be useful for your Brief and Oral Arguments.
  • ICJ Basic Toolkit – This is an interactive product from the United Nations’ International Court of Justice intended for the use of the public, providing a brief overview of the Court.
  • Glossary of Terms