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World Court Digest

III. The International Court of Justice
4.2. Res judicata / Effects of Judgments

¤ Land and Maritime Boundary
between Cameroon and Nigeria,
Preliminary Objections, Judgment,
I.C.J. Reports 1998, p. 275

[p. 292] 28. Nigeria nonetheless contests that conclusion pointing out that, in accordance with Article 59 of the Statute, "[t]he decision of the Court has no binding force except between the parties and in respect of that particular case". Thus, judgments given earlier, in particular in the case concerning Right of Passage over Indian Territory, "clearly [have] no direct compelling effect in the present case".

It is true that, in accordance with Article 59, the Court's judgments bind only the parties to and in respect of a particular case. There can be no question of holding Nigeria to decisions reached by the Court in previous cases. The real question is whether, in this case, there is cause not to follow the reasoning and conclusions of earlier cases.

[p. 380 D.O. Koroma] Moreover, it is an important principle of this Court that it does not recognize the principle of stare decisis - the principle of binding precedent does not apply in the Court. It is also part of the Court's jurisprudence that even when legal principles are accepted by the Court in a particular case, they are not regarded as binding upon other States or in other disputes. The Court has the power and the duty to depart from previous decisions when this is necessary and in the interests of justice. To my mind, the present case before it is just such a case.

[p. 401 D.O. Ajibola] The principle of stare decisis does not apply in this Court and, that being so, it has no rule of precedent. Article 59 of the Court's Statute expressly states that a decision of the Court is only binding between the parties and in respect of that particular case. Article 62 of the Statute permits a State which considers that it has an interest of a legal nature which may be affected by the decision of the Court in a particular case to file a request to the Court for permission to intervene.

In practice, however, the Court in most cases relies upon and follows its previous decisions.

While that practice is desirable in order to ensure some degree of certainty in the jurisprudence of the Court, there are occasions when it is necessary for the Court, for one reason or the other, not to follow its previous decisions. The present case is just such a case.

This latter practice is not unknown in the Court and had been employed in a few cases: in the case concerning Interpretation of Peace Treaties with Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania the Court declined to follow the strict rule which it had laid down in the Status of Eastern Carelia case regarding the rendering of an advisory opinion. Similarly, in the Barcelona Traction case the Court did not follow its decision in the Nottebohm case on the issue of diplomatic protection.