Exploring the boundaries of international law
Exploring the boundaries of international law

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Exploring the boundaries of international law

4.1 General principles of jurisdiction

The traditional starting place for a consideration of jurisdiction is the judgment in the Lotus case, which you will look at in the next activity.

Activity 5

Read pages 18–19 of Lotus (SS) Case (France v Turkey) PCIJ Rep Series A 1927, no. 10 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (the material is replicated in both English and French), then summarise the court’s view on the nature and extent of a state’s jurisdiction.


In the judgment, the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) states that the most important restriction imposed by international law upon a state is that it must not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another state unless there is a permissive rule, deriving from custom or treaty, to the contrary. This reflects the positivist approach to sovereignty; that is, that the jurisdiction of a state within its territory is absolute. The state has power over people, property and events within its territorial boundaries.

The PCIJ then explains that there is no prohibition in international law against states extending their jurisdiction to persons, property and events taking place outside their territory, so long as it is not limited by a contrary principle of international law.

At first sight these statements appear mutually exclusive. The apparent contradiction in the Lotus judgment is resolved when you consider that jurisdiction takes different forms and is subject to customary international law principles which determine the extent of a state’s jurisdiction in different circumstances.


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