The Question of Pirate Trials in States Without a Crime of Piracy

Zou, Keyuan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2868-4948 and Jing, Jin (2020) The Question of Pirate Trials in States Without a Crime of Piracy. Chinese Journal of International Law, 19 (4). pp. 591-623. ISSN 1540-1650

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Many States in the world such as China have no specific domestic laws providing for the crime of piracy, leading to the question whether these States have the competence to punish piracy as required by international law. This paper argues that the lack of a crime of piracy within a domestic legal system should not become an insurmountable obstacle for States to prosecute pirates. Prosecution of pirates without a crime of piracy is feasible in a State that has domestic criminal laws that deal with illicit activities similar to piracy by indicting perpetrators with other criminal offences. While it would be an ideal solution for that State to establish a specific crime of piracy in its domestic legal system, it is important to consider the difficulties in setting the definition of piracy and the degree of punishment appropriately, and realize that the major deficiencies in punishing pirates under other existing domestic crimes can be basically addressed within an existing domestic legal system. The main purpose of universal jurisdiction over piracy to punish criminals to the maximum extent and the changing situation of piracy also require States to always be ready to deal with piracy. Therefore, prosecuting pirates as another crime is a realistic compromise. Furthermore, for a State without a crime of piracy, it is more urgent for it to build up legal grounds for exercising universal jurisdiction over piracy and relevant procedural provisions on the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction over international crimes at sea.

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