During 1920-1922, experts and diplomats established the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), located in The Hague. This was no mean feat: for centuries, activists and lawyers had argued that a ‘world court’ would be a guardian of peace. The League of Nations’ Secretary-General, Sir Eric Drummond (a British diplomat of Scottish ancestry) counted the PCIJ’s opening among the most ‘distinguished marks in the progress of mankind’; James Brown Scott asserted that ‘the hope of ages is in the process of realization’.

Image of the PCIJ in action. Source: https://www.icj-cij.org/en/pcij

A century onwards, as global and European courts face sustained opposition, such statements may seem naïve, and yet the idealism of the early 1920s continues to inspire. It is one of the drivers towards the much-proclaimed ‘historical turn’ in international legal scholarship (and of the parallel ‘normative turn’ in historical research). Building on such ‘turns’, this project interrogates a particular significant moment in the development of international law, namely the debates leading up to the PCIJ’s establishment. The project seeks to test assumptions about the establishment of the PCIJ in the early 1920s, and about the factors that affect the success and failure of international courts. In this respect, a particular focus will be on the role of host states, and host states’ civil society, without whose cooperation international courts cannot gain acceptance; and on the way judges – pioneers in their field – understood their role.

The project aims to bring together a network of scholars working on the PCIJ – from legal historical, IR and sociological perspectives. Original and innovative contributions will be presented at an international workshop, to be held at Radboud University on 11-12 June 2020.

International Workshop — Call for Papers

Seal of the Permanent Court of International Justice

The approach of the centenary of the first World Courtis an apposite time to reconsider not only the legacy of the court, but to also revisit the circumstances around the creation of the court; the identities and motivations of the actors involved; and broader contemporary perceptions of the court. Between 1920and 1922, experts and diplomats drafted the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), located in The Hague. Their work drew on the efforts of prior generations of international lawyers and activists, and yet resulted in something new and lasting: a permanent court of potentially general jurisdiction, whose basic structures have remained unchanged for 100 years. While the PCIJ itself has remained the subject of continuous inquiry, many themes and decisions leading up to its establishment remain understudied– including the roles of key actors, the response of the Dutch public to the proposed ‘world court‘, and contemporary perspectives on the court‘s future role. These and related questions will be discussed at a workshop at Radboud University in June 2020, for which the organisers invite expressions of interest through a Call for Papers.

To view the full Call for Papers please click here.

About the Funders


This research project is generously supported by the Radboud – Glasgow Collaboration Fund. Based on a 2018 Memorandum of Understanding between the Universities of Radboud and Glasgow, the Fund is committed to promoting projects in the areas of research; learning and teaching; and short-term staff mobility to enable knowledge exchange and foster ongoing academic collaboration. 

Project Leads

Professor Henri de Waele, Chair in International and European Law (Law), Radboud University

Professor Christian J. Tams, Chair in International Law (Law), University of Glasgow


Entrance of the Peace Palace in the Hague

Background Materials

For readily available information about the PCIJ, please have a look at the following sources:

* Detailed Information about the PCIJ, including the complete set of official PCIJ documents (judgments, pleadings, etc.) can be found on the website of the International Court of Justice, the PCIJs de facto successor: click here.

* Text of the Statute of the PCIJ and of the Rules of Court: click here.

* S.S. “Wimbledon” case, judgement: click here

* Online lecture – La Cour permanente de Justice internationale (H.E. Philippe Couvreur, former registrar of the International Court of Justice [in French]) click here.

* Book chapter – Peace through International Adjudication. The Permanent Court of International Justice and the Post-War Order (Christian J. Tams), published in Erpelding/Hess/Ruiz Fabri (eds) Peace Through Law (Nomos 2019, open access) click here.

* Book chapter – Legacies of the Permanent Court of International Justice – An Introduction(co-authored by Professors Christian J. Tams and Malgosia Fitzmaurice, Brill/Nijhoff 2013) Tams_Fitzmaurice_Legacies PCIJ – Introduction

* From the UN website see the inaugural sitting of the Permanent Court of International Justice (15 February 1922): footage posted online on 15 February 2016 (source: Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision) click here

* Video of Judge Joan Donoghue discussing her work at the ICJ: click here

Salle de la Reformation. The official opening of the League of Nations. Image from Wikimedia Commons