Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Paquete Habana case brief (2)

The Paquete Habana
175 U.S. 677 (1900)

Quick Synopsis
The Paquete Habana was a landmark United States Supreme Court case which reversed an earlier court decision that allowed the capture of fishing vessels under "Prize."  It is famous due to the fact that the case integrated Customary international law with American law.

Facts of the Case
  • The United States Navy boarded two private fishing vessels that were under the flag of Spain during the Spanish American War.  The United States captured these vessels as prizes of war.  One of these ships was known as the Paquete Habana.
  • The owners of these vessels sued in an attempt to regain their ships and property.
  • According to customary international law, fishing vessels are exempt from being captured during times of war.
  • These vessels were commercial fishing vessels and not military targets.
The United States Supreme Court held that fishing vessels can not be taken as prizes of war.

Rules of Law
While the United States Supreme Court found that there was no specific United States law that defines a "prize of war," the court states that customary international law makes fishing vessels exempt from being taken as a prize of war.

  • The court states that there are a number of factors that are used to determine whether or not something is considered customary international law.
  • In this case, the court states that there was state practice by a number of different countries which seemed to point to a custom that commercial fishing vessels were exempt from being prizes of war.
  • There was a repetition of the above practice that made commercial fishing vessels exempt.
  • Opinio juris stated that commercial fishing vessels were exempt from being "prizes of war."
Why you should read this case
  • The Paquete Habana  lays out a number of important factors that courts use in determing if something has become customary international law.
  • Customary international law can be described as a type of "international common law."  Customary international law is not explicitly defined, yet many seem to agree with it.

Prize is a term that is used in admiralty law.  Prize refers to equipment, vehicles, vessels, and cargo that is captured during armed conflict.  The most common use of prize in the legal sense is the capture of an enemy ship as well as its cargo as a prize of war.
In the past, the party that captured would commonly be given a share of the worth of the captured prize.

Nations often granted what is known as "letters of marque" which would entitle private parties to capture enemy property (usually ships).  Once the ship was secured on the granting country's waters or territory, it would be made the subject of a prize case.  A prize case is an in rem proceeding in which the court determines the status of the condemned property and the manner in which that property is to be disposed of.
Opinio juris is a subjective element which is used to judge whether or not the practice of a state is due to a belief that it is legally obliged to do a particular act.

Course:  International law -

Other case briefs for "The Paquete Habana": http://www.lawschoolcasebriefs.net/2011/09/paquete-habana-175-us-677-1900.html#sthash.eAXL4UdX.dpuf

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