Robert Yewdall Jennings

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Robert Yewdall Jennings

A British judge, Sir Robert Yewdall Jennings (born 1913) was appointed to the International Court of Justice in 1982 and re-appointed in 1991, becoming president of the court.

Robert Yewdall Jennings capped a long and distinguished legal career in Great Britain when he was selected in February 1991 to sit as presiding judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague in the Netherlands. Chosen for a term of nine years, not to expire until the year 2000, Chief Justice Jennings was given the opportunity to promote the rule of law in world affairs on the threshold of the 21st century.

Legal Training

The future justice was born on October 19, 1913, at Idle in the Yorkshire district of England. Attending Belle Vue grammar school in Bradford, he impressed his teachers sufficiently to be accepted to Downing College at Cambridge University, where he received both an M.A. and an LL.B. degree. Determined upon a legal career, he went on to advanced studies in the United States. Chosen as a Joseph Hodges Choate fellow from 1936 to 1937, he attended Harvard Law School, but returned to England when given an appointment as assistant lecturer in law at the London School of Economics. Prospects for academic contemplation were disrupted, however, by the outbreak of war in Europe.

Jennings saw military service in the British Army through World War II, being a member of the Intelligence Corps from 1940 to 1946. Even so, this did not prevent him from being called to the Bar of Lincoln's Inn in 1943. Once demobilized, he promptly resumed his teaching duties at the London School of Economics, where he was a lecturer until 1955. At the age of 42 his career took a major step forward with the appointment as professor of international law at Cambridge University, which continued until 1981, when he was chosen to be a justice on the 15-member International Court of Justice, after winning approval of both the United Nations' General Assembly and Security Council.

Academic Successes

During those interim years Jennings earned a reputation for scholarship and legal acumen. While at Cambridge he also doubled as a reader in international law to the Inns of Court Council of Legal Education (1959-1970), and over the course of several decades was a fellow (beginning 1939), senior tutor (1949-1955), honorary fellow (1982), and sometime president of Jesus College, Cambridge. A long-time member of the Oxford and Cambridge United University Club, he was awarded honorary doctor of jurisprudence degrees from the universities of Hull (1987), Saarland (1988), and La Sapienza in Rome (1990). Upon his appointment to the international tribunal Robert Jennings was awarded a knighthood in 1982, having been made a queen's counsel already in 1969 and an honorary bencher of Lincoln's Inn (1970).

International Experience

Sir Robert Jennings' list of earlier professional accomplishments included being legal consultant at various times to a number of governments, among them Argentina, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, Sharjah (part of the United Arab Emirates), Sudan, and Venezuela. In this capacity he was involved in several landmark international legal cases as counsel in the Rio Ecuentro, Begal Channel, Franco-British Continental Shelf Delimitation, and Dubai-Sharjah Frontier Delimitation arbitrations; and he appeared as counsel before the International Court of Justice (I.C.J.) in the Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) case. Prior to his appointment to the I.C.J. itself, Sir Robert had been judge ad hoc on the European Court of Human Rights in Xvs. United Kingdom (1982); after 1982 he was also a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Publications and Affiliations

This familiarity with both the institutions and codes of international law was further enriched by Jennings' diverse professional work. For example, he authored various books, articles, and monographs that were circulated within the international community of legal scholars. As recently as 1995, he published an article in the American Journal of International Law to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the I.C.J. In addition, as early as 1967, he visited The Hague, where he gave the general course on principles of international law at the Academy of International Law. Justice Jennings had a long affiliation with the Institute of International Law, advancing from associate (1957) to member (1967), vice-president (1979), president (1981), and honorary member (1985). He was also an honorary life member of the American Society of International Law. In addition, at one time he was public international law editor (1957-1959) of the International and Comparative Law Quarterly, going from there to the British Year Book of International Law, first as co-editor in 1959 and then as senior editor from 1974 to 1982. His two principal book publications were The Acquisition of Territory (1963) and a textbook, General Course on International Law (1967).


Though Jennings' term on the I.C.J. would not expire until February 5, 2000, the judge announced his retirement in 1995 when he was 81 years old. He was replaced by Rosalyn Higgins of Britain, who was the first woman to be elected to the World Court. Despite his retirement, Jennings continued to play an active role in international legal matters. In January of 1997, he headed an arbitration panel to settle a territorial dispute between Yemem and Eritrea.

Further Reading

There is little published material on the personal life of Sir Robert Jennings. For his writings see the titles mentioned in the text.

Additional Sources

Goodman, Anthony. "Italian Jurist Elected to World Court." Reuters Ltd., 21 June 1995.

Jennings, Robert Y. "The International Court of Justice after Fifty Years." American Journal of International Law 89 (July 1995): 493-505.

Wallis, William. "Briton Elected World Court's First Woman Judge." Reuters Ltd., 12 July 1995.

"Yeman-Eritrea Dispute Goes to Arbitration." Reuters Ltd., 14 January 1997. □