More than one hundred years ago, in 1899, the Hague Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes established the Permanent Court of Arbitration: the first standing institution intended to settle disputes between sovereign States through binding decisions based on international law. Since then the international rule of law has advanced significantly. There now are more than 20 international courts and tribunals that is to say permanent institutions, composed of independent judges, that adjudicate disputes between two or more entities (at least one of which is either a State or an International Organization); operate on the basis of predetermined rules of procedure; and render decisions that are binding on the parties. Beside these international courts and tribunals, there are at least 70 other international institutions, which exercise judicial or quasi-judicial functions.
At the same time, since the end of the Cold War, willingness of members of the international community to have recourse to international judicial bodies has greatly increased, especially among developing countries and non-state actors. These two factors make the post-Cold War era a fundamental milestone in the development of international justice. Yet, this exceptional growth of the international judicial sector for the most part has been uncoordinated, giving rise to a number of questions which require consideration by the international community:
• Do 20 courts and tribunals with differing jurisdictions, sources of financing and membership amount to a judicial system?
• What is the relationship between the various fora?
• Is there a need for harmonization of procedural aspects? Does lack of harmonization hinder access, especially by the politically and economically weakest?
• What are the problems, actual or potential, arising from the absence of co-ordination, both institutional and substantive, among the different institutions and mechanisms?
• What should happen where jurisdictions overlap?
• How is the international justice machinery to be funded?
• Can the international justice machinery, as presently organized, be made more universally accessible and equitable in the distribution of justice?
• What effect do current structural, financial and procedural arrangements have on the quality and distribution of justice?
These and other questions suggest that if confidence is to be maintained in international courts and dispute settlement bodies, and compliance with international obligations ensured, there is need for the international community to think systematically about the development of the international justice system and try to structure it in a more coordinated manner. Two aspects in particular will need to be addressed. First, arrangements for effective access to these bodies must be assured. Second, the bodies themselves must have the financial and other resources to be able to discharge their tasks effectively. Indeed, a number of courts are facing serious financial constraints, and actors with limited human, technical and/or financial resources find it difficult to participate effectively. Issues of efficiency, expediency and economy intertwine, therefore, with needs of fairness and justice. These are the questions PICT was established to address.
PICT is an unprecedented endeavor. It is the only internationally based effort to address, with a comprehensive and holistic approach, all existing international courts and tribunals. It couples academic research with concrete action aimed at facilitating the work of international courts and tribunals at developing the lawyering skills of potential actors, in particular, in developing countries and economies-in-transition.