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12 July 1973


General List No. 55


international Court of Justice


Fisheries Jurisdiction


United Kingdom






BEFORE: President: Lachs;
Vice-President: Ammoun;
Judges: Forster, Gros, Bengzon, Petren, Onyeama, Ignacio-Pinto, de Castro, Morozov, Jimenez de Arechaga, Sir Humphrey Waldock, Nagendra Singh, Rude.
Citation: Fisheries Jurisdiction (U.K. v. Ice.), 1973 I.C.J. 302 (Order of July 12)

The International Court of Justice,

Composed as above,

After deliberation,

Having regard to Articles 41 and 48 of the Statute of the Court,
Having regard to Article 61 of the 1946 Rules of Court,

Having regard to the Application by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland filed in the Registry of the Court on 14 April 1972, instituting proceedings against the Republic of Iceland, [p5]

Having regard to the request for the indication of interim measures of protection filed by the United Kingdom in the Registry on 19 July 1972,

Having regard to the Order of the Court dated 17 August 1972 by which the Court indicated interim measures of protection in this case,

Makes the following Order:

1. Having regard to the communication dated 22 June 1973 and filed in the Registry the same day, by which the Agent for the Applicant referred to operative paragraph (2) of the Order of the Court dated 17 August 1972, providing for review of the matter at the request of either Party, and requested the Court to confirm that the interim measures of protection indicated by the Court in that Order will continue until the Court has given final judgment in the case or until further order;

2. Whereas the Government of Iceland was forthwith notified by telegram of the communication of 22 June 1973, a copy of which was at the same time transmitted to it by express air mail;

3. Whereas the Government of Iceland has by a telegram of 2 July 1973 submitted observations on the request by the Agent for the Applicant in his communication of 22 June 1973, protesting against the continuation of the measures indicated, maintaining that highly mobile fishing fleets should not be allowed to inflict a constant threat of deterioration of the fish stocks and endanger the viability of a one-source economy, and concluding that to freeze the present dangerous situation might cause irreparable harm to the interests of the Icelandic nation;

4. Having regard to the Judgment of 2 February 1973 by which the Court found that it had jurisdiction to entertain the Application filed by the Government of the United Kingdom on 14 April 1972 and to deal with the merits of the dispute;

5. Having regard to the Order of 15 February 1973 by which the Court fixed time-limits for the written proceedings on the merits;

6. Being aware that negotiations have taken place between the States concerned with a view to reaching an interim arrangement pending final settlement of the dispute;

7. Whereas the provisional measures indicated by the Court and confirmed by the present Order do not exclude an interim arrangement which may be agreed upon by the Governments concerned, based on catch-limitation figures different from that indicated as a maximum in the Court's Order of 17 August 1972 and on related restrictions concerning areas closed to fishing, number and type of vessels allowed and forms of control of the agreed provisions;

8. Whereas the Court, pending the final decision, and in the absence of such interim arrangement, must remain concerned to preserve, by the indication of provisional measures, the rights which may subsequently be [p6] adjudged by the Court to belong respectively to the Parties;



by 11 votes to 3,

Confirms that the provisional measures indicated in operative paragraph (1) of the Order of 17 August 1972 should, subject to the power of revocation or modification conferred on the Court by paragraph 7 of Article 61 of the 1946 Rules, remain operative until the Court has given final judgment in the case.
Done in English and in French, the English text being authoritative, at the Peace Palace, The Hague, this twelfth day of July, one thousand nine hundred and seventy-three, in four copies, one of which will be placed in the archives of the Court, and the others transmitted respectively to the Government of the Republic of Iceland, to the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and to the Secretary-General of the United Nations for transmission to the Security Council.

(Signed) Manfred Lachs,

(Signed) S. Aquarone,

Judge Ignacio-Pinto makes the following declaration:

I concurred in the Court's Orders of 17 August 1972 granting the United Kingdom in one case, and the Federal Republic of Germany in the other, the interim measures of protection they had requested in their dispute with Iceland; but I am unable to concur in the present Order. I have voted against it for reasons based on the following considerations:

1. The Court, in confirming the interim measures indicated in the earlier Order of 17 August 1972, has not, in my view, taken sufficient account of the circumstances that have arisen since that Order was made.
In my view, bearing in mind Article 61, paragraph 7, of its Rules, the Court ought first to have ascertained with care whether the new aspects of the situation did not necessitate either the revocation or, at least, the modification of the terms of the Order of 17 August 1972 [p7].
The reason is that, as no-one can be unaware, there have been numerous clashes in the disputed fishery-zone between Icelandic coastguard vessels and trawlers flying the British or Federal German flag. Some of these incidents, such as collision between two vessels or the firing of shells by Icelandic coastguard vessels, were in my view grave enough to warrant the exercise by the Court of its right to modify the terms of its original decision.

2. Furthermore, these incidents, in my judgment, constitute so many flagrant violations on either side of the operative part of the Orders of 17 August 1972. The measures should therefore be reviewed, and others indicated concerning inter alia the presence of warships.
It is true that the present Order is made "subject to the power of revocation or modification" conferred on the Court by Article 61, paragraph 7, of its Rules, but the renewal of the interim measures indicated on 17 August 1972 until the Court has given final judgment in the case is fraught with risk, given the prevailing tension between the disputants. If other, much graver incidents were to occur before final judgment was given, the Court would be open to criticism for failure to exercise vigilance.
Such are the considerations which precluded me from joining the majority of the Court in voting for the present Order.

Judges Gros and Petrén append dissenting opinions to the Order of the Court.

(Initialled) M.L.

(Initialled) S.A. [p8]



The Order of 12 July 1973 purely and simply confirms the interim measures of protection indicated by the Court in its Order of 17 August 1972, pending the judgment on the merits of the case instituted by the Application of 12 April 1972. Having adopted a different position I feel I should briefly state my reasons for doing so. It is Article 41 of the Statute and Article 61 of the 1946 Rules of Court which determine the jurisdiction of the Court in the present proceedings, and I would have preferred Article 61, paragraphs 7 and 8, of the Rules, providing for the possible modification of existing provisional measures, to have been differently applied.


One need only observe that the circumstances in which the Court made its decision in August 1972 are no longer exactly the same, whether on the plane of facts or on that of the respective subjects of complaint, to realize the case for the Court's re-appraising those circumstances before deciding to confirm measures which, according to the terms of Article 41 of the Statute, had been indicated because the Court considered that "circumstances" so required. The Government of the United Kingdom, by a letter of 22 June 1973, requested the Court to confirm the measures of August 1972; the Government of Iceland, by a telegram dated 2 July 1973, recalled its protests against the indication of measures in August 1972 and against their continuance in force. There is therefore a categorical opposition of views on that point, and the telegram of the Government of Iceland makes certain points which might well be studied, including the argument that "the Court by endeavouring to freeze the present dangerous situation is completely ignoring the scientific and economic facts of the case".

The position adopted by Iceland ever since the beginning of the case has remained unchanged, and the Court took note of it in paragraph 12 of its Judgment of 2 February 1973 on the question of jurisdiction, when it based itself on Article 53 of the Statute and decided that in the absence of Iceland the Court should examine any possible objections against its jurisdiction. Article 53 having formally been taken into consideration in the phase devoted to the jurisdictional issue, I find it very artificial to go back on that position in the present stage of the proceedings. Iceland is still failing to appear, and the legal effects of that fact ought, according to Article 53, to be the same as at the moment of the Judgment on the [p9] question of jurisdiction. Without its being necessary to enquire into the effect of the telegram of 2 July in which the Icelandic Government protested against the continuance of the interim measures, it is to my mind impossible to maintain that the Court did not have to carry out an examination proprio motu of its own role in regard to interim measures. The Court seems to consider that Article 53 of the Statute can be interpreted in such a way as to penalize the absent State; I regard that interpretation as erroneous. But in any case, and quite apart from the question of the absence from the proceedings of the Government of Iceland, a hearing ought to have been held and the necessary questions put to the Applicant; Article 61 of the Rules provides precisely for that possibility of verifying any arguments of which the Court may have cognizance—and the Court had been advised that the Applicant was prepared to attend a hearing, and was ready at any time to submit such observations as the Court might wish to request.
Furthermore, the following statement was made on behalf of the British Government in the House of Commons on 12 June 1973:

"Her Majesty's Government, in a letter of 28th May, drew the attention of the President and members of the Security Council to the serious situation created by the continued and intensified Icelandic harassment of British trawlers. The International Court of Justice, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, is already seized of the dispute; and for this reason it is not at present appropriate to ask the Security Council to take action." (Hansard, House of Commons, p. 302.)

Here the accent is placed on the responsibility of the Court in taking account of the situation which was described in detail in a White Book entitled Fisheries Dispute between the United Kingdom and Iceland: 14 July 1971 to 19 May 1973 (Cmnd. 5341), and more particularly in paragraphs 12, 13 and 14 and in Annexes E and F, laid before the United Kingdom Parliament in June 1973. There was no dearth of information preventing an examination of the situation at the moment when the Court was called upon to pronounce upon the question of interim measures. The Court is aware that both of the interested States accuse each other of employing force with a view to exercising the respective rights which they claim (on this point, cf. the letter addressed on 28 May 1973 to the President of the Security Council by the United Kingdom Permanent Delegation—S/l 0936, paras. 1,3, 4 and 6—and the letter of the Permanent Delegation of Iceland dated 29 May 1973—S/10937, paras. 1, 2, 3 and 8. The various incidents were also listed in Annexes E and F of the White Book).

The continuance of interim measures, like their indication in the first place, is justified by the concern to safeguard rights—not economic interests, but the rights which the Court may recognize in its judgment on the merits (Order, para. 8). I have some doubt as to the justification for giving a decision which confirms interim measures without re-apprais-[p10]al when, in the present case, the Court cannot be unaware that the dispute has been aggravated since its first Order (cf. the White Book of June 1973, paras. 12-17, and the Annexes above referred to) and that the most effective method of settling the dispute would be to pass judgment on the merits as soon as possible. As interim measures serve only to protect rights, urgency attaches not only to deciding upon such measures but also to settling the dispute. When, by its Order of 15 February 1973, the Court fixed a time-limit of six months for the Memorial of the United Kingdom and a further time-limit, as distant as 15 January 1974, for a possible Counter-Memorial of Iceland, its decision was underlain by the same preoccupations as paragraph 6 of the present Order, namely by concern to leave open to the interested States the possibility of "reaching an interim arrangement pending final settlement of the dispute". But the outcome of specifying such time-limits is that a case which began in April 1972 cannot be settled for two years, on account of the Court's own decisions as to the calendar of the proceedings.

The fixing of time-limits is a useful element in the conduct of proceedings before the Court and enables, within limits, a certain influence to be exerted for the sake of good administration of justice. Each case gives rise to its own particular problem in that respect. Concerning the present case I believe it may be said that, in fixing such lengthy time-limits, the Court has neglected one possible effect of its being seised with the case, when it had just declared, almost unanimously, that it possessed jurisdiction. An international tribunal has always a preventive role—and, as often as not, has none other. In the present case, if the interested States had been conscious of the fact that their dispute would be settled by judicial decision at a relatively early date, that might have given them some incentive to conclude the dispute by other means, if still possible. This raises the general question of the relationship between two modes of peaceful settlement of international disputes, namely negotiation and judicial settlement, but there is no call for me to go into that here. To assist understanding of the course of the proceedings with regard to interim measures, from the request of 17 July 1972 up to today's decision, I need only say that in my view a tribunal ought not to be over-influenced in the exercise of its functions by the course followed by the other mode, that of negotiation. The Permanent Court of International Justice had realized all that from the beginning. In the Order which he made on 15 February 1927 in the case concerning Denunciation of the Treaty of November 2nd, 1865, between China and Belgium, President Max Huber said:

"Considering that measures of protection, indicated by the Court as being for purely legal reasons rendered necessary by circumstances, cannot be dependent, as regards their applicability, upon the position of negotiations that may be in progress between the Parties" (P.C.I.J., Series A, No. 8, p. 11).

While I am mindful of the different circumstances of the present case, [p11] it seems to me that this dictum is still valid as a principle calling for application by the Court. The institution of proceedings before the Court is an act stemming from the foreign policy of the State, and that aspect of the matter does not concern the judge at all; conversely, negotiations on the subject of the dispute are not part of the proceedings. The Court does not have to draw any conclusion from them in exercising its judicial function for so long as the negotiations have not resulted in an agreement between the parties on the basis of which a request for discontinuance is submitted in conformity with Articles 68 and 69 of the Rules of Court. If in given circumstances States find the conduct of their negotiations rendered difficult by the Court's procedural decisions, particularly in regard to time-limits, it is up to them to make those difficulties known.

In each case the Court, in directing the proceedings, must seek out the most satisfactory manner of fulfilling its judicial role; taking the circumstances as a whole, it seems to me that in the present case the passage of time is not necessarily a favourable factor and that, in any event, the Court's decision should have been preceded by an examination of all the prevailing circumstances, with the assistance of the Applicant.

Such an examination, which would have brought the Agent for the Government of the United Kindom before the Court, would likewise have afforded an opportunity of deciding whether a new time-limit ought to be fixed for the proceedings on the merits, in application of Article 37 of the Rules and taking Article 53 of the Statute into account.

(Signed) Andre GROS. [p12]



Having voted against the Order, I append thereto this dissenting opinion.

There is an evident possibility that the circumstances in which the Court, on 17 August 1972, indicated interim measures of protection might have undergone such changes as could justify some modification of those measures. One of the factors which ought to be taken into account in that respect is the evolution of fish-stocks. In its telegram protesting against the continuation of interim measures, the Government of Iceland maintained that British and Icelandic catches continue to decrease per unit effort and that small immature fish of the 1970 year-class, which is the only known sizeable year-class and should constitute the main source of supply in 1976-1978 and the necessary "recruitment", are now increasingly being landed in. United Kingdom ports. To my mind, these indications gave rise to questions which were serious enough to warrant inviting the Parties, before the Court took up any position on the continuance of interim measures, to furnish it with the relevant information, available from specialized organizations and institutions, as to the evolution and exploitation of fish-stocks in the fishing-waters concerned.

The many incidents that have occurred at the fishing-grounds have shown that the interim measures of protection indicated on 17 August 1972 have not been fulfilling their purpose, and there I see another reason for re-appraisal of those measures.

Another element which, as I see it, would have merited being taken into consideration is the way the Court recently founded the indication of interim measures on the possible existence of a new rule of international law. By the Orders made on 22 June 1973 in the cases concerning Nuclear Tests (Australia v. France; New Zealand v. France) the Court indicated in particular that the French Government should avoid nuclear tests causing the deposit of radio-active fall-out on Australian and New Zealand territory. This indication of interim measures was apparently founded on the possible existence of a new general rule of international law prohibiting States from carrying out atmospheric nuclear tests causing the deposit of radio-active fall-out, however slight, on the territory of other States. Nevertheless this general rule of international law, if it exists, has not yet been given codified expression. Its existence, therefore, could only be proved with the aid of other sources of law representing an evolution which is still in progress. [p13]

Now, in claiming the fishing-rights contested by the British Government in the present case, the Government of Iceland has sought to draw authority from an evolution of international law which is upheld by an ever-increasing number of declared attitudes and is less hypothetical in character than the putative right on the basis of which the Court indicated interim measures in favour of Australia and New Zealand.

I therefore feel that the question of interim measures of protection in the present case ought also to be re-examined in the light of this recent precedent.

In view of the foregoing, and as the Court, in accordance with Article 53 of its Statute, is under a duty also to take into consideration such indications as it may have which militate in favour of a party that fails to appear, I am of the opinion that the interim measures should have been subjected to re-appraisal. That, in accordance with Article 61, paragraph 8, of the 1946 Rules, would have required the Court to invite the Parties to present their observations on the subject. The majority having opposed this course, I was obliged to vote against the Order.

(Signed) Sture PETREN.