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The Permanent Court of Arbitration - Description [2004] PICTRes 9 (29 March 2004)

The Permanent Court of Arbitration

The Permanent Court of Arbitration was established by the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, concluded at The Hague in 1899, and then revised by the second Hague Peace Conference in 1907. That makes it one of the oldest international institutions continuously in existence, and surely the oldest one in the field of international dispute settlement.

Despite its name, the PCA is neither permanent nor a proper court of justice. Indeed, unlike properly called international judicial bodies, the PCA does not have a permanent bench, made of judges which have not been selected by the parties, and who apply pre-determined rules of procedure. All it does is to provide states with a roster of potential arbitrators (each state party to the Conventions of 1899 and 1907 can designate up to four arbitrators) to form an ad hoc arbitral tribunal, and the logistic support for it, by way of the only component of the PCA which is really permanent (i.e., its secretariat, known as the International Bureau). In other words, the Hague Conventions did not create a court but rather a machinery for setting up arbitral tribunals when the need arises.

The PCA lived a golden age in the years before World War I, when several high profile cases were submitted to arbitration. Its success inspired various plans and proposals for the creation of truly permanent international judicial bodies, eventually paving the way for the establishment of the Permanent Court of International Justice. Fatally, the PCIJ and the ICJ overshadowed the PCA reducing its caseload to a trickle, first and then hibernating it completely after World War II.

It is only towards the beginning of the nineties that the PCA experienced a thaw, when it gradually diversified its services beyond the purely inter-State disputes, situating itself at the juncture between public and private international law. Nowadays, the PCA facilitates settlement of disputes involving various combinations of states, private parties and intergovernmental organizations by way of arbitration, conciliation and fact-finding. It offers flexible rules of procedure, which are based upon the widely used UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules as well as ad hoc rules for specific kinds of disputes, such as those pertaining to the environment and natural resource.

PICT Data obtained from the Project on International Courts and Tribunals (PICT)

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