Guest Post: Does International Law Require an International Double Jeopardy Bar?

GAB is pleased to welcome back Frederick Davis, a lawyer in the Paris office of Debevoise & Plimpton, who contributes the following guest post:

Most countries prohibit multiple prosecutions for the same acts or offenses. This is known in the United States as the prohibition against “double jeopardy”; in Europe and elsewhere the principle is known as ne bis in idem. But what happens if a person or company is pursued in more than one country? This question is particularly relevant to the fight against foreign bribery, where the same act will often offend the criminal laws of multiple countries. The OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, adopted in 1997, clearly anticipated the possibility of multi-state prosecutions, but provided in Article 4.3 only that the relevant authorities should “consult with a view to determining the most appropriate jurisdiction for prosecution,” a provision that has been consistently interpreted as precatory, not providing an individual right against double prosecution.

The law in the United States provides no protection against duplicate prosecution by a different sovereign. The situation is more complex in Europe. In some countries, such as France, domestic legislation limits a prosecutor’s power to pursue a person or entity already the object of a prosecution in another country, but only if the exercise of French jurisdiction is “extraterritorial” (that is, where no constitutive act of the alleged crime took place on French territory, but the prosecution based on some other factor, such as the French nationality of the accused or the victim).  Within Europe, a series of overlapping treaties—Protocol Number 7 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (CPHRFF), adopted in 1984 by the Council of Europe and signed by most but not all of its members; Article 54 of the Convention to Implement the Schengen Agreement (CISA), adopted in 1990; and Article 50 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFR) adopted in 2009—all contain ne bis in idem provisions, though they are not identical. (The CISA provision, for example, protects against re-prosecution based on the same “acts,” while the CFR and CPHRFF protect against multiple prosecutions for the same “offense.”)  The CISA provision has been expansively interpreted by the European Court of Justice, which has noted that CISA mandates a “mutual trust” in the criminal justice systems of other signatory countries, and respect for their decisions “even when the outcome would be different if [the second country’s] own national law were applied.”

Lurking behind these and other developments in Europe is the possibility that protection against multiple prosecutions may one day be viewed as right, grounded in international treaty obligations, that is cognizable under domestic constitutions. No court has yet so ruled, but there are sufficient intimations of such a possibility in some French decisions, for example, that the issue is frequently raised there. Continue reading