Internationaal recht – The case of the S.S. Lotus

  • Datum: 07 september 1927

  • Rechtbankniveau: Permanent Court of International Justice

  • Rechtsgebied: Internationaal recht

  • Wetsartikelen: /


On August 2nd, 1926, just before midnight, a collision occurred between the French mail steamer Lotus and the Turkish collier Boz-Kourt. This resulted in the sinking of the Turkish boat and the death of eight Turkish nationals. Turkish authorities instituted criminal proceedings against the French officer on duty aboard the S.S. Lotus at the time of the collision, Lieutenant Demons. Mr. Demons objected on the grounds that Turkey had no jurisdiction to bring charges. The Turkish court overruled this objection and sentenced Mr. Demons to a fine and imprisonment. The French government challenged the Turkish court’s action as a violation of international law. Turkey and France agreed to refer this dispute on the jurisdiction to the Permanent Court of International Justice.

Questions before the Court:

1. Did Turkey violate international law when Turkish courts exercised jurisdiction over a crime committed by a French national, outside Turkey?;

2. If the answer is yes, should Turkey pay compensation to France?

The decision

The Court held that Turkey had not acted in conflict with the principles of international law, by instituting criminal proceedings against Mr. Demons. A State cannot exercise its jurisdiction outside its territory unless an international treaty or customary law permits it to do so. However, 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 and in which it cannot rely on some permissive rule of law. In other words, it is impossible that there is a rule of international law that prohibits Turkey from prosecuting Mr. Demons, because he was aboard a French ship.

There is no occasion to give judgment on the question of pecuniary reparation which might have been due to Mr. Demons if Turkey, by prosecuting him, had acted in a manner contrary to the principles of international law.