World Court

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

World Court

World Court, popular name of the Permanent Court of International Justice, established pursuant to Article 14 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The protocol establishing it was adopted by the Assembly of the League in 1920 and ratified by the requisite number of states in 1921. By the time of its dissolution in 1945 (when its functions were transferred to the newly created International Court of Justice), the court had 59 member states. Established at The Hague, the court was empowered to render judgments in disputes between states that were voluntarily submitted to it and to give advisory opinions in any matters referred to it by the Council or the Assembly of the League. Its functions, thus, were judicial rather than, as in the case of the older Hague Tribunal, purely arbitral and diplomatic. It also differed from the Hague Tribunal in having a permanent group of judges instead of a panel from which judges might be selected to hear a particular dispute. The court originally had 11 judges and 4 deputy judges, but in 1931 its composition was changed to 15 regular judges. Judges were elected for nine-year terms by the Council and the Assembly concurrently; they were selected from a list of nominees of the Hague Tribunal regardless of nationality, except that not more than one citizen of a country might sit on the bench at any one time.

Although the United States never joined the court (because the Senate refused to ratify the protocol), there was always an American jurist on the bench. To assure impartiality, the judges were paid salaries and were forbidden to engage in governmental service or in any legal activity except their judicial work. In the course of its existence, the court rendered 32 judgments and 27 advisory opinions. An important judgment was that which affirmed (1933) Danish sovereignty over the northern coast of Greenland and disallowed Norway's claim. The advisory opinions of the court were important in developing international law. A notable opinion declared (1931) that the proposed customs union of Germany and Austria would violate Austria's pledge to remain independent. The court virtually ceased to function after the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1940.

See M. O. Hudson, The Permanent Court of International Justice, 1920–1942 (rev. ed. 1943, repr. 1972); D. F. Fleming, The United States and the World Court (1945, repr. 1968).

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