Corfu Court

  May 18, 2022   Read time 2 min
Corfu Court
The Court took over a year to consider the matter, during which time it visited the area and listened to expert naval advice, especially on how far the damage to the ships was compatible with the particular mines subsequently found.

In April 1949 it delivered its judgement. It found, by 11 votes to 5, that the minefield swept by the British Navy after the incident had been recently laid. Although it could not be proved who had laid the minefield, the fact that Albania, on her own account, had kept a vigilant watch on the strait (which could be easily observed from the Albanian coast) indicated it could scarcely have been laid without her knowledge. This created an obligation on her to notify foreign shipping of the mines, an obligation which she had not observed. The Court therefore found that Albania was responsible under intern ationallaw for the explosions and loss of life.! On the second question the Court decided that, since this was a strait used for international navigation between two parts of the high seas, Britain was under international law free to send warships through even without authorisation, since their passage appeared to have been innocent. But the Court also found that, in sweeping the mines in the following month, Britain had violated Albanian sovereignty and her defence based on the right of self-help or self-protection provided no justification for this action.

The Court had been asked whether there was any duty to pay compensation. It decided that this must involve deciding the amount of compensation, which would require further hearings. Albania claimed that the Court was to decide only whether compensation was due, and not how much. But the Court declared that, if it omitted to decide this, an important part of the dispute would remain unsettled. It therefore continued to hear the British claim. And eventually it awarded compensation of £843,947 for damage to the ships and compensation for the loss of life.

Albania refused to accept thisjudgement or to pay the sums due. Britain attempted to pursue the matter through bilateral channels (though she had no diplomatic relations), but without success. Subsequently, when the International Court heard the dispute concerning the so-called 'Albanian gold', gold taken from Albania by Italy in 1939 and subsequently held in London after Italy's defeat, Britain maintained that a part should be awarded to her in settlement of her Corfu Channel claim. This was turned down by the Court. Albania remained unwilling to pay; and so Britain never got her compensation.

The case was a fairly minor one but it received much publicity at the time. The main thing it proved was that recourse to international arbitration was not a sure way of resolving international disputes. There was no attempt to get the Security Council to consider enforcing the Court's judgement, as the Charter provided for in Article 94 - presumably because the Soviet Union was bound to veto such a proposal. So the first major attempt by the Council to resolve a dispute through international adjudication was a dismal failure. Albania has still not paid the sums awarded.

Write your comment