Principles of Jurisdiction

Principles of Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction refers to the legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case. It determines which court system should properly adjudicate a dispute or a case, based on factors such as geography, subject matter, and the parties involved. The principles of jurisdiction under international law are foundational to understanding how states assert their legal authority over individuals, especially in matters of criminal law. These principles guide the exercise of jurisdiction in situations that cross borders, reflecting the complexity and interconnectedness of the international community.

Territorial Principle
The territorial principle is the most fundamental and widely accepted basis for jurisdiction. It allows a state to exercise jurisdiction over any crime committed within its territory, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim. This principle is based on the sovereignty of states over their territory and is the least controversial, serving as the primary jurisdictional rule in international law.

Nationality Principle (Active Personality Principle)
The nationality principle allows a state to exercise jurisdiction over its nationals, regardless of where a crime is committed. This principle extends a state's legal reach beyond its borders, enabling it to prosecute its citizens for crimes committed abroad. This principle has been expanded in some jurisdictions to include permanent residents, reflecting a broader understanding of the social contract between individuals and the state.

Passive Personality Principle
The passive personality principle permits a state to exercise jurisdiction over foreign nationals who commit crimes against its citizens outside of its territory. This principle is grounded in the state's responsibility to protect its nationals. It is a form of extraterritorial jurisdiction that underscores the importance of national identity and the duty of a state to safeguard its citizens, even when they are abroad.

Protective Principle
The protective principle allows a state to exercise jurisdiction over foreign nationals for actions committed outside its territory that threaten the state's security or other vital interests. This principle is often invoked in cases related to national security, espionage, or other acts that, while occurring outside the state's borders, have serious implications for its safety and well-being.

Universality Principle
The universality principle is the most expansive, asserting that a state can exercise jurisdiction over certain crimes of universal concern, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, and forced disappearances, regardless of where they were committed, the nationality of the perpetrator, or the nationality of the victim. This principle embodies the idea that some crimes are so heinous that their prosecution is a matter of international concern, obliging states to prosecute or extradite (aut dedere aut judicare) the accused to ensure justice is served.

These jurisdictional principles under international law reflect the balance between state sovereignty, the protection of national interests, and the global commitment to justice and human rights. No single principle has supremacy; rather, their application requires careful consideration of the specifics of each case, international treaties, and the principles of cooperation and respect for the sovereignty of other states. The overlapping and sometimes competing claims of jurisdiction necessitate cooperation and dialogue among states to address the challenges of prosecuting crimes that span multiple jurisdictions.
Back to blog
UOL Case Bank

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
INSEAD
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law

    Terminology

    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory

    Exam-focused

    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.