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The Case of SS Lotus (France V. Turkey), P.C.I.J. (Ser. A No.

10 (1927))

Brief Fact Summary. Turkeys (D) assertion of jurisdiction over a French citizen who
had been the first officer of a ship that collided with a Turkish ship on the high seas
was challenged by France (P) as a violation of international law.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A rule of international law, which prohibits a state from
exercising criminal jurisdiction over a foreign national who commits acts outside of
the states national jurisdiction, does not exist.

Facts. A collision occurred shortly before midnight on the 2nd of August 1926
between the French (P) mail steamer Lotus and the Turkish (D) collier Boz-Kourt.
The French mail steamer was captained by a French citizen by the name Demons
while the Turkish collier Boz-Kourt was captained by Hassan Bey. The Turks lost
eight men after their ship cut into two and sank as a result of the collision.
Although the Lotus did all it could do within its power to help the ship wrecked
persons, it continued on its course to Constantinople, where it arrived on August 3.
On the 5th of August, Lieutenant Demons was asked by the Turkish (D) authority to
go ashore to give evidence. After Demons was examined, he was placed under
arrest without informing the French (P) Consul-General and Hassan Bey. Demons
were convicted by the Turkish (D) courts for negligence conduct in allowing the
accident to occur.

This basis was contended by Demons on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction
over him. With this, both countries 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 contravened
international law.

Issue. Issue: Does a rule of international law which prohibits a state from exercising
criminal jurisdiction over a foreign national who commits acts outside of the states
national jurisdiction exist?

Held. (Per curiam) No. A rule of international law, which prohibits a state from
exercising criminal jurisdiction over a foreign national who commits acts outside of
the states national jurisdiction, does not exist. Failing the existence of a permissive
rule to the contrary is the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law
on a state and it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another
state.

This does not imply 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 which it cannot rely on some permissive rule of international law. In this
situation, it is impossible to hold that there is a rule of international law that prohibits
Turkey (D) from prosecuting Demons because he was aboard a French ship. This
stems from the fact that the effects of the alleged offense occurred on a Turkish
vessel.

Hence, both states here may exercise concurrent jurisdiction over this matter
because there is no rule of international law in regards to collision cases to the effect
that criminal proceedings are exclusively within the jurisdiction of the state whose
flag is flown.

Discussion. In 1975, France enacted a law regarding its criminal jurisdiction over
aliens because of this the situation surrounding this case. The law stipulates 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. This is
contained in 102 Journal Du Droit International 962 (Clunet 1975). Several eminent
scholars have criticized the holding in this case for seeming to imply that
international law permits all that it does not forbid.