Extraterritorial Justice and Cross-cultural Legal Translation
The Role of Consuls in the Professionalization of Local Legal Actors in the Late 19th c. Ottoman Empire, China and Japan


The 19th century marked a major shift towards the reconfiguration of the world order – a watershed that has been partially framed and consolidated in semi-colonial countries by unequal treaties setting up the extraterritoriality. This legal principle guaranteed the immunity of nationals and protégés of the Treaty Powers via special courts, such as mixed courts or consular courts. Both consular courts and extraterritoriality have been extensively studied in hypo-colonial contexts, such as in 19th-century Japan, China and the Ottoman Empire. However, scholarly work in this field tend to neglect the initial targets of the principle of exterritoriality defined by Grotius, namely the diplomats. The project focuses on the role of the consul in order to carry out a comparative analysis of these three cases because this figure is situated at the intersection(s) of multiple levels of importance – encompassing diplomatic, legal, political, trade, socio-economic, or cultural dimensions – that help illuminate both the local and the global implementations of extraterritoriality. The heuristic value of the consul is not restricted to his diplomatic role, connecting the national and international systems, but also involves his original social status within a cosmopolite elite ensured by a Vattelian international formation. Furthermore, often having been a merchant before becoming a consul or a judge in consular courts, the economical and legal dimensions connected with this figure warrant further attention. The consul is therefore a key actor at this time — one able to mix the colours on the palette of extraterritoriality in a pervasively globalised world and its free-market economy.  

To carry out this comparative study on semi-colonial contexts, in which extraterritorial justice was implemented, this project follows the path of two British consuls who both had successful careers in the Ottoman Empire, China, Siam and Japan. Beyond the substantive and geographical relevance of these regions, European actors are the focus of analysis because their nationalities opens up another critical approach to Eurocentrism by enabling a critical examination of internal processes. Acknowledging both the Marxist-inspired critique and the critical international law scholarly literature on the issue of extraterritoriality, the project brings these two approaches together to explain the extent to which consuls and their efforts toward legal professionalisation of local actors played a role in the spread, legitimation and settling of the 19th-century Western legal order in hypo-colonial spaces. In turn, it assesses how the phenomena of acculturation and resistance both contributed to the shaping of local normative production. By taking an alternative approach, the project thus makes both a substantive and methodological contribution to legal transfer studies as well as to the critical and comparative debates on legal extraterritoriality.

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