The International Court of Justice (ICJ) was established by the United Nations Charter to act as a world court. New Zealand is one of only about 60 States to have made a declaration accepting the ICJ’s jurisdiction as compulsory. This means both that New Zealand has the right to bring any State that has made such a declaration before the ICJ, and that New Zealand has agreed to appear before the ICJ if proceedings are brought against it by another such State.
Sir Kenneth Keith is the first New Zealander to be elected as a Judge of the ICJ. He was elected by the UN General Assembly and Security Council in 2005 to serve a ten-year term.
New Zealand has appeared before the International Court of Justice three times since it began its work in 1946.
Nuclear Tests case (No.1): In 1973 New Zealand challenged France’s decision to carry out a series of atmospheric nuclear tests in the South Pacific and sought a ruling from the ICJ that the tests were illegal. The ICJ granted provisional measures in favour of New Zealand in June 1973. France nevertheless proceeded to conduct a series of tests in July/August 1973 and June/Sept 1974. Before the full merits of the case could be heard France announced that it would not carry out any further atmospheric tests after the 1974 tests had been completed. The ICJ decided that France’s undertaking not to carry out further atmospheric testing meant that there was no longer a dispute between the parties, and accordingly that there was no need to rule on the legality of the tests that France had already conducted. However, the ICJ stated that if “the basis of its decision were to be affected” in the future, New Zealand could return to the ICJ and “seek an examination of the situation”.
Nuclear Tests case (No.2): In June 1995, France announced that it would resume nuclear testing after a three year moratorium and conduct eight underground nuclear tests at Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls. New Zealand challenged France’s decision and argued that its intention to recommence nuclear testing in the South Pacific “affected the basis of” the ICJ’s decision in Nuclear Tests case (No.1). New Zealand requested the ICJ to examine the situation and grant provisional measures to prevent France from undertaking any further nuclear tests. The ICJ dismissed New Zealand’s application on the grounds that the basis of its earlier decision was France’s undertaking not to conduct any further atmospheric tests, and that this did not extend to cover underground testing. However, France did reduce the number of tests it carried out from eight to six, and subsequently accepted a complete ban on all nuclear testing when it became party to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998.
Legality of Nuclear Weapons: New Zealand also presented arguments before the ICJ in 1995 on the UN General Assembly’s request for an advisory opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons.