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Failing the Hague Stress Test

Published on November 6, 2018        Author: 
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On 25 October 2018, the President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Abdulqawi A. Yusuf, made an apparently ordinary announcement in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. In light of the increasing workload of the Court, Judge Yusuf reported towards the end of his speech, “[m]embers of the Court have come to the decision, last month, that they will not normally accept to participate in international arbitration.” This decision appeared on its face simply to add clarity to the mandate set out in the Statute of the Court that judges may not “engage in any other occupation of a professional nature.” But Judge Yusuf went on with his remarks to specify that “[i]n particular, [members of the Court] will not participate in investor-State arbitration or in commercial arbitration.” Neatly separated from this withdrawal, Judge Yusuf confirmed that the Court will “if the circumstances so warrant, authorize its Members to participate in inter-State arbitration cases.”

Here was the signal international legal observers had been waiting for. The reaction on social media belied the apparently ordinary nature of the statement. The Court had taken a stance on one of the partisan issues of international legal politics – the hot potato of investor-State arbitration.

The events surrounding Judge Sir Christopher Greenwood’s re-election bid to the Court brought that hot potato to the Court’s doorstep. Days after Judge Greenwood conceded defeat in his re-election bid to the Court, a think tank associated with opposition to investor-state arbitration, published a study that called out “moonlighting” by ICJ judges in investor-state arbitrations. One of the judges the think tank focused upon was Judge Greenwood. Its reporting more than implied that Judge Greenwood’s work as arbitrator was a further reason speaking against his re-election. One can only imagine that with the political opposition to investor-State arbitration in Europe and elsewhere, this implication landed with rather a loud thud at the Court. The context thus may have been one of judicial acquiescence to the political headwinds rather than one that was purely a question of workload. After all, while resigning politicians do certainly like to spend more time with their families, this desire is hardly if ever the whole story behind their departure. So, too, the Court’s reasoning appears a little too casual when viewed in context. In fact, this topic was one of the most hotly debated issues at the recent Oxford Investment Claims Summer Academy convened by the Oxford University Press at Kellogg College this July. Read the rest of this entry…