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  • Sir Geoffrey Nice QC

No UK judge at the ICJ. But who cares? Not the Brexiters

Many may regard the UK’s failure to have a permanent judge at the ICJ as a national humiliation, no less, and a warning signal to anyone who still believes that our present government is capable any more of promoting British interests effectively abroad.

Others will see voting at the UN - against UK and in favour of India when it came to the last candidate to be elected - as a possible consequence of the damage Brexit is doing by guaranteeing that the UK is seen as 'Little England' not worthy of positions at the important centres of power and authority.

Others still will note how ironic it is that Brexiters seem determined to leave the ECJ on which the UK has a judge by right and that has done the UK no harm at precisely the time the UK loses for the first time ever a seat on the World's top court, the ICJ, that will continue to be able to bind member states of the UN such as the UK.

And others yet will note how the UK always complied with ICJ rulings, while other countries like the USA did not; and how the UK added significantly to the jurisprudence of both the ICJ and the ECJ.

Inaugural session of the International Court of Justice on 18 April 1946, in the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands), in the presence Her Royal Highness Princess Juliana of the Netherlands.  Courtesy of the ICJ. All rights reserved.

In both courts it could be said that the UK led by example that might have been followed by others. But no more.

And for how much longer will our island's seat on the Security Council be guaranteed? But who could care about that? Not the Brexiters. After all the UK has nothing to offer others that justifies being a member of that Council and loss of a seat there would be a small price to pay for ‘getting our laws back’, whatever the means. On present reckoning it means losing all control of laws at the world's top court (save for cases where the UK would be able to have an ad hoc judge in any case involving the UK directly) and losing all control at the ECJ where jurisdiction over our affairs will continue for some time, it now seems.

As lemmings might say to Mrs May and her cabinet and to their critics: 'what cliff? There is no cliff, watch us’

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC is a BiE expert who has practiced as a barrister since 1971 and is renowned for leading the prosecution of Slobodan Milošević, former President of Serbia. Much of his work since has been connected to cases before the permanent International Criminal Court or pro bono for victims groups whose cases cannot get to any international court.

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