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Corfu Channel Case (United Kingdom v. Albania)

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Citation. I.C.J., 1949 1.C.J.4.

Brief Fact Summary. The right to send its warship through the straits used for international navigations was the claim put forward by the United Kingdom (P).


Synopsis of Rule of Law. The geographical situation connecting two parts of the high seas and not the fact of its being used for international navigation is the test of whether a channel should be considered as belonging to the class of international highways through which passage cannot be prohibited by a coastal state in time of peace.


Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

A commentator noted in 1962 that, for the purposes of these borrowing statutes, the courts unanimously hold that a cause of action sounding in tort arises in the jurisdiction where the last act necessary to establish liability occurred; i.e., the jurisdiction in which injury was received.

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Facts. Albanian (D) forces fired at British warships (P) which were sailing though the North Corfu Channel. The Albanian (D) government maintained that foreign ships had no right to pass through Albanian territorial waters without prior notification and permission from its authorities when the United Kingdom (P) protested the actions of the Albanian (D) forces. The argument United Kingdom (P) put forward was that states could send their ships for innocent purposes through straits used for international navigation but the Albanian (D) refuted this on the ground that the channel did not belong to the class f international highways through which a right of passage exists because it was exclusively for local traffic. This channel has also been a subject of territorial disputes between Greece and Albania, though Albania was afraid of Greek incursions.


Issue. Can the geographical situation connecting two parts of the highs sea and not the fact of its being used for the international navigation, be a test of whether a channel can be considered as belonging to the class of international highways through which passage cannot be prohibited by a coastal state in a time of peace?


Held. Yes. The geographical situation connecting two parts of the high seas and not the fact of its being used for international navigation is the test of whether a channel should be considered as belonging to the class of international highways through which passage cannot be prohibited by a coastal state in time of peace. The North Corfu Channel can be categorized to the class of international highways through which passage cannot be prohibited by a coastal state in time of peace. If Albania had issued such regulation in light of the state of war with Greece, then Albania would have been justified in issuing regulations in respect of the passage of warships through the strait.


Discussion. In 1982, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea was passed. It stipulates that whether coastal or landlocked, states can enjoy the right of innocent passage through territorial sea. But 12 nautical miles from the coast was the maximum limit of which the territorial sea was held to exist.



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