Integrity Legal

14th July 2009

When dealing with issues involving US Immigration or Immigration to Thailand, one will often run into situations where the legal systems of two sovereign states come into play. Further, dealing with diplomatic missions in the form of Embassies, Consulates, and Charges D’Affairs the concepts of jurisdiction, sovereignty, and extraterritoriality come to the forefront. In this post we will take a quick look at extraterritoriality and how it applies to United States Embassies and Consulates in Thailand and abroad.

What is Extraterritoriality? Extraterritoriality is a legal situation in which one is exempted from the jurisdiction of the law of the locality where one is situated. Generally, this situation results from the commencement or continuation of diplomatic discussions. In certain instances, extraterritoriality can be applicable to tangible locations such as non-native military installations and in modern times: the United Nations compound in New York City.

There is a common misconception that Embassies and Consulates have extraterritoriality. As anecdotal evidence of this misconception, people will often say things like, “the US Embassy sits upon United States soil.” For the most part, this is not the case as extraterritoriality is not conferred upon an Embassy or Consulate, but in some situations extraterritoriality may be created by Treaty. That being said, members of diplomatic legations (Ambassadors, Representatives, Consuls, Vice Consuls, Deputy Ambassadors, and Charges D’Affaires) may be accorded extraterritorial status within the foreign state to which they have been accredited. Also, the property of such representatives may have extraterritorial status. For example, an official diplomatic pouch will not be subject to search and seizure by a country other than the country with ownership of the pouch.

These legal rights were created in order to allow diplomatic agents to have the ability to freely conduct correspondence with their home nation. Also, these privileges are generally conferred as a courtesy from one sovereign to another. As a practical matter, “diplomatic immunity” puts the diplomat outside of local law. However, these privileges are usually extended reciprocally and therefore neither state is being accorded inequitable privileges.

At one time, the Kingdom of Thailand conferred extraterritorial rights upon foreigners in the country. As time went by, these rights were viewed with more resentment by Thai people. After World War II, the Thai government began renegotiating treaties with foreign governments in an effort to do away with these disproportionate extraterritorial concessions. Today, Thailand maintains normal diplomatic relations with most countries around the world.

(This is not legal advice. For such advice contact an attorney. No Attorney-Client relationship is formed between the reader and writer of this posting.)


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