Court to rule on Japan's whale hunt

JULIAN DRAPE
Last updated 11:07 30/03/2014

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Almost three decades after agreeing to a ban on commercial whaling Japan could be forced to stop harpooning whales in the Southern Ocean with the UN's top court set to rule on a long-running dispute over Tokyo's "scientific" hunt.

After years of diplomatic wrangling and violent clashes in Antarctic waters, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday will deliver a binding judgment in the case between Australia and Japan.

Canberra has asked a 16-judge panel to ban Tokyo's annual hunt on the basis it is not "for purposes of scientific research" as allowed under Article 8 of the 1946 whaling convention.

Australia argues Japan is cloaking a commercial whaling operation "in the lab coat of science" so it can continue to sell whale meat just as it did prior to agreeing to the 1986 ban.

However, during a three-week hearing in the Netherlands in mid-2013, Tokyo countered that the ICJ didn't have the authority to decide what was, or wasn't, science.

Japan insisted lethal research was both lawful and necessary.

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis isn't travelling to The Hague for Monday's judgment.

His spokesman told AAP it wouldn't be appropriate to comment ahead of the ruling.

"(But) both Australia and Japan have made it clear they will respect the decision of the court," the spokesman said in a statement.

States can't appeal a ruling of the ICJ.

Australia will be represented by agent Bill Campbell, Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson and Canberra's ambassador to the Netherlands, Neil Mule.

The judgment will come seven years after then opposition leader Kevin Rudd first pledged a future Labor government would take legal action against Tokyo.

Rudd was duly elected prime minister in November 2007 but it took another 18 months before the government instituted proceedings in mid-2010.

Clashes between Japan's whaling fleet and Sea Shepherd activists have become a dramatic staple of the southern hemisphere summer in recent years.

Norway and Iceland conduct commercial whaling operations but, unlike Japan, haven't agreed to the commercial whaling ban.

Greenpeace spokesman John Frizell says a decision in favour of Australia "would place Japan in a very difficult position and present great difficulties for its operation in the Antarctic".

But if the judges rule for Japan "they will feel vindicated and free to continue their operations which are becoming increasingly controversial".

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- AAP

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