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ANGLO NORWEGIAN FISHERIES CASE (SUMMARY ON CUSTOMARY

INTERNATIONAL LAW)
Case: Anglo Norwegian Fisheries Case (UK vs Norway)
Year of Decision: 1951. Court: ICJ.

The Court was asked to decide, inter-alia, the validity, under international law, of the methods
used to delimit Norways territorial sea/ fisheries zone. We would not discuss the technical
aspects of the judgment. The judgment contained declarations on customary international law.
However, the value of the jurisprudence was diminished because these declarations lacked indepth discussion.

Background to the case


The United Kingdom requested the court to decide if Norway had used a legally acceptable
method in drawing the baseline from which it measured its territorial sea. The United Kingdom
argued that customary international law did not allow the length of a baseline drawn across
abay to be longer than ten miles. Norway argued that its delimitation method was consistent
with general principles of international law.
Formation of customary law
The court consistently referred to positive (1) state practice and (2) lack of objections of other
states on that practice as a confirmation of an existing rule of customary international law (see
p. 17 and 18). There was no mention of opinio juris in this early judgment.
In the following passage, the court considered that expressed state dissent regarding a
particular practice was detrimental to the existence of an alleged general rule. It did not
elaborate whether these states adopted a contrary practice because it was claiming an exception

to the rule (see the Nicaragua jurisprudence) or because it believed that the said rule did not
possess the character of customary law.
In these circumstances the Court deems it necessary to point out that although the ten-mile
rule has been adopted by certain States both in their national law and in their treaties and
conventions, and although certain arbitral decisions have applied it as between these States,
other States have adopted a different limit. Consequently, the ten-mile rule has not acquired the
authority of a general rule of international law.

Persistent objector rule


The court in its judgment held that even if a customary law rule existed on the ten-mile rule,
the ten-mile rule would appear to be inapplicable as against Norway inasmuch as she has
always opposed any attempt to apply it to the Norwegian coast.
In this case, the court appears to support the idea that an existing customary law rule would not
apply to a state if it objected to any outside attempts to apply the rule to itself, at the initial
stages and in a consistent manner, and if other states did not object to her resistance. In this
manner, the Anglo Norwegian fisheries case joined the asylum case (Peru vs Colombia) in
articulating what we now call the persistent objector rule.

Initial objection
In the present case, the court pointed out that the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in
1870, stated that, in spite of the adoption in some treaties of the quite arbitrary distance of 10 sea miles,
this distance would not appear to me to have acquired the force of international law. Still less would it
appear to have any foundation in reality

The court held that Language of this kind can only be construed as the considered expression of a legal
conception regarded by the Norwegian Government as compatible with international law. The court
held that Norway had refused to accept the rule as regards to it by 1870.

Sustained objection
The court also went on to hold that Norway followed the principles of delimitation that it
considers a part of its system in a consistent and uninterrupted manner from 1869 until the time
of the dispute. In establishing consistent practice, the court held that too much importance need
not be attached to the few uncertainties or contradictions, real or apparent, which the United Kingdom
Government claims to have discovered in Norwegian practice.

No objection
After the court held that the 10-mile rule did not form a part of the general law and, in any
event, could not bind Norway because of its objections, the court inquired whether the
Norwegian system of delimitation, itself, was contrary to international law. To do so, the court
referred to state practice once more.
The general toleration of foreign States with regard to the Norwegian practice is an
unchallenged fact. For a period of more than sixty years the United Kingdom Government itself
in no way contested it The Court notes that in respect of a situation which could only be
strengthened with the passage of time, the United Kingdom Government refrained from
formulating reservations.

Contrary practice
In this case, Norway adopted a contrary practice a practice that was the subject of litigation.

However, interestingly, Norway was clear that it was not claiming an exception to the rule (i.e.
that its practice was not contrary to international law) but rather it claimed that its practice was
in conformity with international law (see page 21).
In its (Norways) view, these rules of international law take into account the diversity of facts
and, therefore, concede that the drawing of base-lines must be adapted to the special conditions
obtaining in different regions. In its view, the system of delimitation applied in 1935, a system
characterized by the use of straight lines, does not therefore infringe the general law; it is an
adaptation rendered necessary by local conditions.

Conclusion
The court held that the fact that this consistent and sufficiently long practice took place without
any objection to the practice from other states (until the time of dispute) indicated that states did
not consider the Norwegian system to be contrary to international law.
The notoriety of the facts, the general toleration of the international community, Great Britains
position in the North Sea, her own interest in the question, and her prolonged abstention would
in any case warrant Norways enforcement of her system against the United Kingdom. The
Court is thus led to conclude that the method of straight lines, established in the Norwegian
system, was imposed by the peculiar geography of the Norwegian coast; that even before the
dispute arose, this method had been consolidated by a consistent and sufficiently long practice,
in the face of which the attitude of governments bears witness to the fact that they did not
consider it to be contrary to international law.

Relationship between international and national law


The court alluded to the relationship between national and international law in delimitation of
maritime boundaries. In delimitation cases, states must be allowed the latitude necessary in order to

be able to adapt its delimitation to practical needs and local requirements The court would also
consider certain economic interests peculiar to a region, the reality and importance of which are
clearly evidenced by a long usage. However, while the act of delimitation can be undertaken by
the State, its legal validity depends on international law.
The delimitation of sea areas has always an international aspect; it cannot be dependent merely
upon the will of the coastal State as expressed in its municipal law. Although it is true that the
act of delimitation is necessarily a unilateral act, because only the coastal State is competent to
undertake it, the validity of the delimitation with regard to other States depends upon
international law. (p. 20)