The S.S. Lotus Case
P.C.I.J. Ser. A, No. 10, p. 4 (1927)

  • A French ship (the S.S. Lotus), collided with a Turkish ship in international waters, killing some Turkish sailors.
    • The French ship then docked in Turkey.
  • Turkey attempted to try the French officer in charge of the Lotus for negligence.
    • They found him guilty and sentenced him to 80 days in jail.
  • France went to the Permanent Court of International Justice (P.C.I.J.) and argued that Turkey did not have jurisdiction to try the French officers, because they were on a French boat in international waters at the time of the accident.
    • Turkey argued that since their nationals were killed, they had jurisdiction to try those responsible for the deaths.
    • France argued that as a matter of customary international law, the flag of the vessel (in this case France) has exclusive jurisdiction.
  • The PCIJ found that Turkey did have the right to try the French sailors.
    • The PCIJ basically found that since the two ships were involved in the same accident, that both countries had concurrent jurisdiction over the accident.
    • The PCIJ found that customary international law gave France jurisdiction, but it didn't give them exclusive jurisdiction.
      • "Under international law, everything that isn't prohibited is permitted."
  • This case led to the Lotus Principle (aka the Lotus Approach), which says that sovereign states may act in any way they wish so long as they do not contravene an explicit prohibition.
    • The Lotus Principle was later overruled by the 1958 High Seas Convention.
      • Article 11(1) says that only the flag State or the State of which the alleged offender was a national has jurisdiction over sailors regarding incidents occurring in high seas.