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The Case Of The S.S. Lotus: France v/s Turkey

The lotus case concerns the criminal trial between France and Turkey, where the clash between these two countries' vessels took place in the high sea on 2 August 1926. The case was accepted and the decision was made by the permanent court of international justice on 7 September 1927. This case is famous for scrutinizing the condition of jurisdiction.

Facts Of The Case
  • On August 2, 1926, a French ship named 'Lotus' was going to Constantinople and the name of the officer of the ship was Lieutenant Deman. On the same day, a Turkish ship named 'Boz-Kourt' the officer of which was Hassan Bey was passing through the open seas.
  • On 2 August 1926, a massive collision took place between S. S. Lotus, the French vessel, and Boz-Kourt, the Turkish vessel. This mishappening occurred at Mytilene in Greece. Boz-Kourt was the vessel that was wrecked and eventually sank due to collision. S. S. Lotus gave its foremost effort to save the Turkish ship and passengers who were there on the ship. Whereas Lotus was able to rescue only 10 passengers who were on the Boz-Kourt ship but still 8 people on that ship died.
  • The French national, Lt. Demons was interrogated by the Turkish officials when the ship reached Constantinople on 3rd August 1926 and adduce evidence of the collision.
  • On 5th August 1926 both French and Turkish lieutenants who were on duty were arrested by the Turkish officials without any prior information given to them.
  • Both Lt. Demons and Hasaan Bey were accused and had charges against them of unintentional killing which is generally referred to as man slaughtering.
  • French government was against this case for not having any prior information that their captain got arrested and accused of unintentional killing
  • On the 28th of August the case was heard by a court in Turkey, to which Lt. Demons argued that the Turkish government did not have any jurisdiction to run a case against him. His point was that since the accident took place on the high seas (the area of the oceans that are not controlled by any country) the country had absolute authority, whose flag was aviated on the vessel and that was France. The Turkish court refused this argument.
  • There was not only a case against Deman, he was sentenced to jail for killing those passengers on board for 80 days with a fine of 22 pounds while Hassan Bey was sentenced to a more serious penalty. According to the French captain and his representative, this decision given by the Turkish Court was discriminatory in nature, therefore violated international law on jurisdiction. Although the French ship helped those passengers to come out of that tragedy alive. So Turkey does not have any right to bring any case against France.
  • France decided to take this case under the International Court. They thought what was going in Turkey is unjustified.
  • Afterward, with mutual consent both Turkey and France, agreed to refer this case to the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) which is located in Hague, Geneva.
  • There was a special agreement registered by the administration of France and Turkish representatives on October 12th, 1926 that the further proceedings on the case will be governed in the Permanent Court of International Justice following international law. The judgments were to be delivered as per Article 40 of the statute of article and Article 35 of the rules of the court.
  • There was a dispute between both the countries as France wanted to set free Lt. Demons from this case and remove all the accused charges. But Turkey was arguing that Lt.Demons was accountable for the loss and he should be imprisoned with the fines. So at last, they decided to solve the dispute on the administration of the Permanent Court of International Justice.

Issues Raised
The main issue that came forward in this case between France and Turkey regarding Lotus and Boz-Kourt was:
  1. Did Turkey violate international law when Turkish courts exercised jurisdiction over a crime committed by a French national, outside Turkey?
  2. If the reply is yes, what economic and financial compensation should be made to Mr. Demons, in relation to the international law, if Turkey is found to infringe these principles?
The court had to decide whether the accusation that was brought by Turkey was lawful or France was right and should be made free from all the charges brought against Mr. Demons.

The Judgement of this case was made during the 12th session of the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ). In this case, France was represented by Basdevant, Professor at the Faculty of Law of Paris, and Turkey was represented by His Excellency Mahmout Essat Bey, Minister of Justice. President was Huber, vice president Mr. Weiss, Former president Loder. Judges appointed for this case was Lord Finlay, Nyholm, Moore, De Bustamante, Altamira, Oda, Anzilotti, and Pessoa.

On 7th September 1927, the judgment was made by the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) in Geneva to answer the two major issues. First, the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) saw that Turkey did not have any right to try the French national, Lt.Demons as both countries had concurrent jurisdiction over the collision that occurred in the high seas. But later Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) discovered that, although France had the jurisdiction because of their flag aviated on the ship, international law did not give France complete jurisdiction and authority. In this case, Turkey was absolutely right in its laws when they filed the suit against France and did not act against the international law, contradictory to article 15 as demanded by French authority.

Considering the first argument made by France was void and declined and the second question that was about the compensation due and payable to Mr. Demons was also rejected by the Permanent Court of International Justice.

The International Court reached the conclusion that there is no Law in the International Law under which a State, whose ship is affected by a collision of ships, cannot prosecute an offender. Under such a situation, the Turkish Court has the right to try the offence, and therefore ordered that it has not infringed the International Law. France's argument about their flag in the vessel on high seas also did not apply here as there was no international law that could compel Turkish negotiation as their ship was destructed.

Legal Impact
Lotus Principle
The Lotus case laid the foundation of the lotus principle. There are certain special rules that have come out in relation to the lotus case regarding the collision, local claim, etc.

The first lotus principle was related to the jurisdiction of a country or state with its territory. A state or country has no right to exercise its power outside its border without international agreement or enacted laws giving it the right to do so. This is the first lotus principle. It is stated in Paragraph 45 that one country cannot operate without its jurisdiction unless there is a special law enacted by an international tribunal to be applied.

The second principle of the lotus case was that a country or state has the right to use its power within its territory. The state may exercise its authority in matters of any nature that it deems necessary to exercise. The state shall have the right to exercise its jurisdiction within its own authority even if there is no specific international law that gives the state exclusive powers to do so. In such cases, the country or state shall apply for a broader extension of the jurisdiction which is protected by the supreme rules of international law. This is stated in Paragraph 46 and Para 47.

From the lotus principle, it was understandable that a country or state was given special freedom within its territory. There were no restrictions on international law. In the case of Turkey, Boz-Kourt, their vessel was considered their own territory. This gave Turkey the right to bring any action against France and Mr. Demons.

Social Impact
The Lotus case between Turkey and France have laid down a new dimension to international law concerning high seas collisions and territorial issues. In this case, it was found that although the collision took place outside the area of ​​the two related parties, as the Turkish ship was damaged by Lotus, Turkey had the right to bring any claim against them. It was decided back then that in all cases involving or related to the case, the decision of this case would be applied. Lotus's case has been used in criminal and civil cases ever since. It was very important to decide what would be occupied by the territory or state.

France has long said that legal questions in collision cases are frequently heard in criminal cases, as countries tend to prosecute only before the State Flag. After this lotus case, a convention was signed at Geneva in 1958 that is the High Seas Convention which specifically pointed towards jurisdiction on collisions on the high seas under Article 11. If this conference had existed before the time of the Lotus collision, the PCIJ judgment would have been different. Turkey would not have the power to bring criminal charges against L.t Demons as a result of Article 11 paragraph 1. End-Note:
  • 1927 P.C.I.J. (ser. A) No. 10 (Sept. 7)

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