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Public International Law: Case Law

This guide will help you find resources for researching public international law.

The International Court of Justice, The Hague

Source: Wikipedia

Noting up - subsequent consideration of international law decisions

The Oxford Law Citator (UniMelb staff & student access) can be used from within the Oxford Reports on International Law. Locate the case you want and then click on the Citator icon to find subsequent judicial consideration of the case.

Books on international courts & cases

International Courts

There are many international courts, tribunals and arbitral bodies created by treaty. Many are specialised while some, such as the International Court of Justice, have general juridiction. International adjudicative bodies tend to fall into seven categories:

  1. Disputes between States concerning  international law can be heard in the International Court of Justice (provided the dispute is between States that have declared that the ICJ has compulsory jurisdiction), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Appellate Body and the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Inter-State litigation is based on the remedial principle of State Responsibility or international tort law. These courts are permanent institutions established by multilateral treaties and in general only determine disputes between States: individuals and other non-state actors are not generally able to be parties to a dispute (although there have been some notable exceptions). The decisions of these courts are final and binding on the parties. 
    Source: Sean D Murphy, International Judicial Bodies for Resolving Disputes Between States' in Oxford handbook of international adjudication (OUP, 2014)
     
  2. International criminal courts
  3. International human rights courts
  4. Courts of regional economic and political integration agreements
  5. International claims and compensation bodies
  6. Investment arbitration
  7. International administrative tribunals

This page of the international law research guide focuses on the ICJ, and its forerunner, the Permanent Court of International Justice. 

Finding International Cases

International cases may be found on the UN Documents website, the websites of the various courts and in several law report series.  Cases may be differently named in each source. For example, you may see the SS Lotus case cited as:

  • The Case of the S.S. "Lotus" PCIJ Series A no 10 07 September 1927 - this is available from the following open access sites -  the Permanent Court of International Justice and WorldCourts.

  • Lotus Case (France/Turkey) 4 ILR 5 - this version is available in the International Law Reports on JustisOne (UniMelb Staff & Student access)

  • ‘Lotus’, France v Turkey, Judgment, ICGJ 248 (PCIJ 1927) - this citation is to the report on the Oxford Reports on International Law: International Courts of General Jurisdiction (ICGJ) module. (UniMelb Staff & Student access)

As there is no 'official' or 'authorised' international report series, any of the above versions can be used for citation purposes.

 

TIP: If you are searching for a specific case that has been heard in an international court or by, for example, an International Committee, and has a UN document number, the easiest way to find it is to go to the UN Official Document System (ODS) search page and type the document number into the 'Symbol' search box - this will take you straight to the case. For example: Sahli v Algeria, Merits, UN Doc CAT/C/46/D/341/2008 can be found by entering CAT/C/46/D/341/2008 into the search box.

Databases and law report series containing judgments from multiple international courts

Oxford Reports on International Law (UniMelb staff & student access) - full text decisions of international courts and international law decisions in domestic courts from 1904. Includes decisions in'modules' such as:

  • International Courts of General Jurisdiction

  • International Criminal Law

  • International Human Rights Law

  • International Investment Claims

  • International Law in Domestic Courts

International Law Reports on JustisOne (UniMelb staff & student access) - full text decisions of international courts and international law decisions in domestic courts from 1919. From the JustisOne home page, select BROWSE >CASES. In the JURISDICTION box select International from the list. In the COURT box, change from COURT to REPORTS. Select International Law Reports from the list. You can then search all years or navigate to the year of your case, or the year reported or the court (note that the year of your case can be different to the year it is reported in the ILR).

International Legal Materials (ILM) - very useful 'introductory notes' to primary documents, including international cases. This series is available to UniMelb staff and students in:

  • HEIN Online (vol 1, 1962+) in the Law Journal Library collection.
  • JSTOR (vol 1, 1962+) JSTOR is more up to date than HEIN.

WorldCourts: (open access) Caselaw of International Judicial and Quasi-Judicial Bodies includes full text (pdf or html) decisions from multiple international and regional courts, committees and tribunals such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the War Crimes Section of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the East African Court of Justice, the Caribbean Court of Justice and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. This is a very useful site as many of these collections of decisions are difficult to find elsewhere, and the collections can be searched together by eg: keyword.

  • NOTE: This database stopped adding cases at the end of 2014.

WordLII International Courts and Tribunals Collection - (open access) includes free full text decisions from 38 courts and tribunals. The decisions may be searched by individual courts/tribunals or all decisions may be searched by keywords.

International Court of Justice - Latest Decisions and News

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Decisions of the ICJ & PCIJ

The International Court of Justice (ICJ)

ICJ website

The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established and began delivering judgments, orders and advisory opinions in 1946. The ICJ has a twofold role: to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States (Contentious cases ) and to give advisory opinions (Advisory proceedings) on legal questions referred to it by duly authorised United Nations organs and specialised agencies.

ICJ decisions, orders and opinions

  • Reported decisions from 1946 to the present are contained in the International Court of Justice Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders - available on HeinOnline (UniMelb staff & student access)
  • Unreported decisions - all decisions from 1946 to the present are available in full text on the ICJ's Cases database on the official ICJ website (open access)‚Äč

Note: unreported decisions appear much faster than the reported version, with the reported version currently being published about two years after the date of the decisions. Unreported decisions and opinions typically appear within weeks of the decision on the ICJ's decision database.

 

 The Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ)

The PCIJ was the predecessor of the International Court of Justice. It held its inaugural sitting in 1922 and was dissolved in 1946. The work of the PCIJ, the first permanent international tribunal with general jurisdiction, made possible the clarification of a number of aspects of international law, and contributed to its development. Between 1922 and 1940 the PCIJ dealt with 29 contentious cases between States, and delivered 27 advisory opinions.

  • All decisions and opinions of the PCIJ are available in full text freely on the WorldCourts website and on WorldLII
  • All publications of the PCIJ, including all decisions and opinions, are available freely on the official PCIJ website.

Finding International Court of Justice Opinions - Online Tutorial

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International Court and Tribunal Research Guides

International Court of Justice - from Columbia University Law School

Open Access Articles on International Courts

Stiansen, Øyvind et al, 'Westphalia Waning? The Uneven Acceptance of International Courts' (May 15, 2017) 

Dothan, Shai, 'International Courts Improve Public Deliberation' (May 16, 2017) Michigan Journal of International Law, Forthcoming 

Finding International Cases on a Topic

For excellent summaries of cases by topic heard in the PCIJ and ICJ up until 1974, see E Hambro,The Case Law of the International Court: A Repertoire of the Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders of the Permanent Court of International Justice and of the International Court of Justice. The Law Library holds this in print on Level 5. This 8 volume work began in 1952. The 1952 volume covers cases from the inception of the PCIJ up until 1952. The case summaries are arranged under the following main headings:

  • Part I: Sources of International Law
  • Part II:Persons i International Law and their Attributions
  • Part III: The Peaceful Settlement of disputes
  • Part IV: Procedure
  • Part V: Conflicts, War, Neutrality