The ICJ’s One Clear Advantage over the U.S. Supreme Court

by Julian Ku

Longtime readers know that I have often criticized (unfairly in many readers’ eyes) the snail’s pace of dispute resolution before the International Court of Justice.  I respect the ICJ as an institution, but I have never thought it has lived up to its potential as the “principal judicial organ” of the United Nations.  On the other hand, I will give credit where credit is due.  Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, which is still battling over whether audio recordings of its oral arguments can be distributed live, the International Court of Justice has done a nice job putting video of its oral hearings online.  Like the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the ICJ is not shy about putting videos online for the world to see and gape over.

Now, like the U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments, these arguments are not exactly the stuff of thrilling drama.  I admit I did not make it through the entire six hours of video on the recent Cambodia-Thailand Temple of Preah Vrear case (I made it through about six minutes, to be honest).  But it helps everyone who studies or practices before the ICJ, or simply wants to understand the ICJ, to be able to see the various submissions, the different orders, and the oral arguments, and the final judgment online.

Indeed, the ICJ arguments (video here) in the Temple of Preah Vrear case is getting pretty good play in Thailand, if these articles in the English language Thai paper The National are any indication (all of the top articles at this hour are about the ICJ hearing).  Indeed, one of the Thai government’s attorneys, Alina Miron, an associate of Thai counsel Alain Pellet, has become a social media celebrity in Thailand due solely to her performance during the oral argument.  It was the quality of the arguments, to be sure, but I have a feeling the fact that her personal appearance may have also made her a star.

Obviously, turning our attorneys or justices into celebrities is not important, but even so, the US Supreme Court could take a lesson from the ICJ here.  Sure, it may be impressive to shroud your processes and arguments in obscurity to make it seem more mysterious, but I don’t think it serves the long term interests of the institution.  Let the cameras in!

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