Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Skip Navigation LinksHome > News & Information > Features > ICJ Judge Donoghue Discusses Role of the World Court

International Court of Justice Judge Joan Donoghue Presents Dean's Special Lecture

By Lori Atherton
Additional reporting by Clarissa Sansone
Nov. 2, 2012

Judge Donoghue

Ed.'s note, 11/2/12: Story updated with reporting on the event.

International Court of Justice Judge Joan E. Donoghue presented the Michigan Law Dean's Special Lecture on Wednesday, Oct. 31. Students and faculty members filled Room 250 Hutchins Hall to listen to her talk, "Reflections on the Role of the World Court."

Judge Donoghue, a member of the court since September 2010 and the third woman to hold such a post, has spoken around the U.S. on the role of the ICJ, "all in the hope of expanding awareness of what international law is."

The International Court of Justice comprises 15 judges, with never more than one judge of any nationality sitting on the court. States, not individuals, come before the court. States can generally accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ, or accept it in regard to a specific treaty; or, two states can decide to bring a case before the ICJ. Land and maritime boundary cases, said Donoghue, have been "a mainstay of the court since the beginning."

The ICJ is in the unique position of being "a world court without a world government," said Donoghue; there is no governing body to strictly enforce judgments—the court gives advisory opinions—so the question of compliance is a complicated one. Although states heed up to 75% of ICJ judgments, there is scholarly debate about whether they do so out of respect for the law, or a mere "coincidence of interests," said Donoghue.

Since her audience consisted not only of future lawyers, but also peers (Prof. Bruno Simma was an ICJ judge) and former colleagues—prior to her ICJ appointment, Donoghue was principal deputy legal adviser in the U.S. Department of State, in addition to other roles such as general counsel and corporate secretary for Freddie Mac, and deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Treasury—Donoghue put as many questions to the audience as she answered.

Specifically, she encouraged the audience to consider (and perhaps even produce scholarship on) four different questions that she regularly ponders:

  1. What actually happens after an ICJ judgment is pronounced? Since the ICJ no longer has jurisdiction after a pronouncement is made, how do the prevailing state and the losing state respond?
  2. What is the relationship between what the ICJ rules and what states actually do with that ruling? Is the strictest ruling necessarily the most effective, if states may refuse to comply?
  3. What are some insights the ICJ could use in drafting judgments (e.g., being specific in a ruling vs. being more general, an absolute ruling against one state vs. a ruling that involves compromise for both parties)?
  4. How do ICJ judgments compare with the judgments of other types of international courts, and why do states choose to bring a case before the ICJ instead of using a nonbinding mechanism?

"I've come to you today with a lot of hard questions," said Donoghue, "and not very many answers to them."

For more information on upcoming international law talks, visit the International Law Workshop page.


Read more feature stories.


Share |