rating: 0+x

Basic Information

Extraterritoriality is the phenomenon whereby a portion of land, apparently part of the territory of one power centre (and usually enclosed by that power centre's other territory) is, nonetheless, placed outside its jurisdiction and ceded to another power.

The most common modern version of this is the international embassy or consulate which, under the Vienna Convention, is regarded as extraterritorial to the host nation and a sovereign part of the resident. Other organisations, such as the Knights of Malta also have historic claims to this status, but in modern terms this is generally a status as between nations.

In pre-modern times, this sort of thing could be alarmingly common - in a traditional feudal setting, royal boroughs and charter towns were not part of the territory of the surrounding Lord … and this could work in the reverse … in the nineteenth century London contained a substantial area know as "The Liberties of the Savoy", which was actually part of the Duchy of Lancaster and therefore exempt from much London law. National law still ran in the Savoy, but civil actions much less so … for example London constables and bailiffs could not arrest a resident for debt, making it a famous haven for debtors. Likewise, the infamous pit of vice that was the London suburb of Southwark got that way by being not part of the city but a small and remote part of the extensive lands of the Bishop of Winchester … whose contributions to law enforcement in the area were proportionate to its relevance to him (very little) as opposed to the demand (high).

Degrees of immunity may vary depending on the relationship of the two power blocs - in some cases, peace officers from one may be allowed hot pursuit into the other, in others this may provoke an immediate and violent response (either from local peace officers or from residents), extradition may be quick and informal, fraught with obstacles or just downright impossible. Likewise, legal codes may vary - again, US citizens will be aware of the idea of the Indian Reservation which has its own discreet legal system, laws and police force … usually this will be obvious because the reservation, unlike the surrounding state, has legalised gambling and therefore a number of casinos.

It is also worth noting that a ship is regarded as sovereign territory of the nation to which it is registered (as are airliners for reasons of historical precedent) and, whilst there are various international conventions to mediate such things, care must still be taken when one nation boards the vessels of another, even in its own ports.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Can lead to hilarious complications, especially in a built up area - if, in a pre-modern city a noble's private estate is actually part of his domain rather than the city it can change things enormously.
    • Especially if that noble is responsible for law enforcement in his own domain (which would be quite normal) it may be very hard to bring him to justice for crimes he commits within his own walls … PCs of non-noble status who simply break in and kill him may find themselves pursued for murder … or worse. Those of noble status may find that they've just started a war
    • Likewise in a modern setting where the villain has diplomatic immunity.
  • Likewise, useful for PCs on the run - Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander cycle is much enlivened by Jack Aubrey's scuttling to and from the Savoy when in London to avoid several outstanding warrants due over his many debts.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License