In re Piracy jure gentium: PC 1934

Charges of piracy were brought against Chinese Nationals who had pursued and attacked a cargo junk. They were indicted in Hong Kong for the crime of piracy and found guilty subject to a question of law: ‘Whether an accused person may be convicted of piracy in circumstances where no robbery has occurred.’ The Appeal Court of Hong Kong concluded that robbery was a necessary ingredient of the offence of piracy and the accused were acquitted. The case was referred on to the Board.
Held: International law has not become a crystallised code at any time, but is a living and expanding branch of the law. A distinction must be drawn between piracy under any municipal Act of a particular country and piracy jure gentium. A frustrated attempt to commit piratical robbery was equally piracy jure gentium. The charge was not under the domestic offence of piracy of Hong Kong, but was the international law of piracy, and determined accordingly: ‘With regard to crimes as defined by international law, that law has no means of trying or punishing them. The recognition of them as constituting crimes, and the trial and punishment of criminals, are left to the municipal law of each country.’ As to the domestic authorities in relation to the definition of piracy: ‘These, however, are immaterial for the purpose of this case, because it must always be remembered that the matter under present discussion is not what is piracy under any municipal Act of any particular country but what is piracy jure gentium.’ As to the international law of piracy: ‘A careful examination of the subject shows a gradual widening of the earlier definition of piracy to bring it from time to time more in consonance with situations either not thought of or not in existence when the older juris consultances were addressing their opinions.’


Viscount Sankey


[1934] AC 586

Cited by:

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CitedRegina v Bartle and Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and Others, ex parte Pinochet Ugarte; Regina v Evans and Similar (No 3) HL 24-Mar-1999
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CitedRegina v Jones (Margaret), Regina v Milling and others HL 29-Mar-2006
Domestic Offence requires Domestic Defence
Each defendant sought to raise by way of defence of their otherwise criminal actions, the fact that they were attempting to prevent the commission by the government of the crime of waging an aggressive war in Iraq, and that their acts were . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

International, Crime

Updated: 30 April 2022; Ref: scu.200231