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CASENOTE LEGAL BRIEFS

International Law

13

The Case of the S.S. Lotus / (France v. Turkey)


Country of citizen (P) v. Country claiming jurisdiction (D)
Permanent Court of lnt'l Justice. P.C.I.J. (ser. A) No. 10 (1927).

NATURE OF CASE: Action to determine validity of exercise of criminal jurisdiction. FACT SUMMARY: France (P) contended that Turkey (D) violated international law by asserting jurisdiction over a French citizen who had been the first officer of a ship that collided with a Turkish ship on the high seas.

A RULEOFLAW MMM There is no rule of international law prohibiting


a state from exercising criminal jurisdiction over a foreign national who commits acts outside of the state's national jurisdiction.

FACTS: On August 2, 1926, just before midnight, a collision occurred between the French (P) mail steamer Lotus, which was captained by Demons, a French citizen, and the Turkish (D) collier Boz-Kourt, captained by Hassan Bey. The Boz-Kourt, which was cut in two, sank, and eight Turkish (D) nationals who were on board perished. After having done everything possible to help the shipwrecked persons, the Lotus continued on its course to Constantinople, where it arrived on August 3. On August 5, Lieutenant Demons was requested by the Turkish (D) authorities to go ashore to give evidence. The examination led to the placing under arrest of Lieutenant Demons, without previous notice being given to the French (P) Consul-General, and Hassan Bey. Although Demons argued that the Turkish (D) courts lacked jurisdiction over him, Demons was convicted of negligent conduct in allowing the accident to occur. France (P) and Turkey (D) then agreed to submit to the Permanent Court of International Justice the question of whether the exercise of Turkish (D) criminal jurisdiction over Demons for an incident that occurred on the high seas violated international law. ISSUE: Is there a rule of international law prohibiting a state from exercising criminal jurisdiction over a foreign national who commits acts outside of the state's national jurisdiction? HOLDING AND DECISION: (Per curiam) No. There is no rule of international law prohibiting a state from exercising criminal jurisdiction over a foreign national who commits acts outside of the state's national jurisdiction. The first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a state is that, failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary, it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another state. It does not, however, follow that international law prohibits a state from exercising jurisdiction in its own territory, in respect

of any case that relates to acts that have taken place abroad, and in which it cannot rely on some permissive rule of international law. The territoriality of criminal law is not an absolute principle of international law, and by no means coincides with territorial sovereignty. Here, because the effects of the alleged offense occurred on a Turkish (D) vessel, it is impossible to hold that there is a rule of international law that prohibits Turkey (D) from prosecuting Lieutenant Demons simply because he was aboard a French (P) ship at the time of the incident. Because there is no rule of international law in regard to collision cases to the effect that criminal proceedings are exclusively within the jurisdiction of the state whose flag is flown, both states here may exercise concurrent jurisdiction over this matter.

ANALYSIS
In conformity with the holding of this case, France in 1975 enacted a law regarding its criminal jurisdiction over aliens. That law, cited in 102 Journal Du Droit International 962 (Ciunet 1975), provides that aliens who commit a crime outside the territory of the Republic may be prosecuted and judged pursuant to French law, when the victim is of French nationality. The holding in this case has been criticized by several eminent scholars for seeming to imply that international law permits all that it does not forbid.

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Quicknotes
FOREIGN NATIONAL

A person owing allegiance to a for-

eign state.
JURISDICTION

The authority of a court to hear and declare judgment in respect to a particular matter.