Do ICJ Judges Need Their Own Law Clerks?

by Julian Ku

Following up on Ken’s post (whose views I totally endorse, by the way), I wanted to flag one UN budgetary issue of particular interest to our readers. As the NYT article details, UN budget negotiators will battle over whether each of the ICJ’s 15 judges should have a law clerk. They currently share nine.  Former ICJ President Roslyn Higgins made an argument for law clerks back in 2006 here.  As a budget item, this is not exactly a huge amount of money. So I can’t imagine the cost of six extra law clerks a year making a big difference, so why not spring for it? There are worse things the UN could spend its money on (like, say, $23 million murals).

But as an institutional matter, it is an interesting question.  Is judging on the ICJ, especially at a rate of four or five cases a year, a job that really requires law clerks?  Does it need full time clerks?  I am no ICJ expert, so I welcome thoughts from our readers on this question.

http://opiniojuris.org/2009/11/09/do-icj-judges-need-their-own-law-clerks/

5 Responses

  1. If I am not mistaken, in addition to these 9 full time law clerks ICJ gets pro bono law clerks from major US/Australian/UK law schools, with which the Court has signed agreements in that regard.

    It’s a bit pity that students from other law schools cannot get a fully fledged clerkship because of this system.

  2. Its not limited to those countries, I have never heard of any contract like that.

  3. Michael, you have to distinguish between ~1 year clerkships offered to students from selected law schools with which ICJ has agreements (i.e. Yale), and 1-3 month(s) internships offered by the ICJ on their website and available to everyone, the latter basically being “hi-bye” type of internships. I know for a fact that this (unfair) difference exists.

    Same universities tried to cut similar clerkship deals with the ICC, but thankfully got rejected.

  4. How is it even possible to spend $23 million on a mural?  I just don’t get it.  I’ve done some searching on the web and find plenty of websites denouncing the expenditure but none explaining it.  The money couldn’t have gone to materials.  Did it go to pay the artist?  Did he say. “I’ll paint a mural for you, but I’ll need $23 million”?

  5. In a globalized era, states will continue to become entangled in international disputes. The ICJ provides a forum by which these states can have disputes settled, either through contentious cases (adversarial adjudication) or advisory opinions. In doing so, the ICJ elucidates international legal concepts, and provides states with an interpretation of international legal obligations by drawing on a variety of sources of law including treaties, customary international law, general principles, etc. (see ICJ Statute). In order for these opinions to gain legitimacy and respect in the international arena, the judges that sit and hear the cases must be respected as international legal experts. These jurists must hand down opinions that are legally precise, not just determining whether or not a state is in non-compliance, but also illuminating domestic measures that states can implement to be in accordance with international law. To do so, the ICJ must have many resources, including the best and brightest legal scholars of varying geopolitical backgrounds. I believe every justice should have his or her own law clerk, and eventually this number should be expanded to several, much like the US Supreme Ct. By pooling the opinions and legal expertise of a variety of legal scholars from around the globe, the ICJ will be better equipped to opine on complicated legal issues from a variety of areas of law. By gaining additional law clerks, the ICJ will prove its legal prowess and, ideally, more states will consent, through the optional clause or treaty provisions, to having cases heard by this objective body of legal jurists.

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