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What is the principle of extraterritoriality?

barcoThe principle of extraterritoriality is defined, according to the legal encyclopedia, as “fiction of international law that has been used to explain the immunities which subtract certain people or certain things (agents and diplomatic enclosures especially) to the authority of the State of residence, as though they were in the national territory”.

This means that, if you are in the Spanish embassy in the United States and you commit a crime within the grounds of the Embassy, you will be judged under the Spanish law, since such enclosure is considered territory Spanish and therefore you are under Spanish jurisdiction.

But let’s make it a little more difficult, what happens if it is committed a crime within a vessel on the high seas (waters whose sovereignty does not possess any country)? The law of the Sea establishes that the ship is part of the floating territory of the flag that hoists, so it will be jurisdiction of the country whose flag represents. What about sovereign waters? In principle it is governed by the Pavilion of the State which the ship hoists too, with a few exceptions in which the jurisdiction of sovereign waters of the country are applied. These exceptions are normally applied when it affects the security of the coastal State. Note that this varies slightly if the vessel is private or State-owned (as warships).

The same applies to airplanes. The State where the plane is flying shall have the jurisdiction only if it considers that the plane is threatening public safety. On the other hand, if it is not, the State to which the aircraft belongs shall have jurisdiction.

There are many disputes that have been generated in the application of this principle. An example close to us was the boat Alakrana, which was boarded by Somali pirates in 2009. The defense lawyers of the pirates argued that the Alakrana didn’t hoist the Spanish flag but the Basque flag, in order to avoid judging them by the Spanish law.

Source: Extraterritorialidad

More information: Wikipedia

Photo: cazaypescaenasturias

Author Spotlight

Dueñas Gomez

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Law and Political Science degree in San Pablo-CEU (Madrid).

Currently studying International Bussines and Law in Saxion University (The Netherlands) Read Full

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