The Political Offense Exception as Applied in French Cases Dealing with the Extradition of Terrorists

01 Jan 1983

There is no doubt that terrorism is a dangerous, costly and complex problem. Commentators have speculated extensively about its ideological character and other analysts have studied its sociological roots and psychological origins. Despite all this attention, there is a lack of consensus in the international community about whether terrorism is no more than a sensational form of criminality or a legitimate mode of political expression.

This article does not attempt to deal with all of the multifarious aspects of contemporary terrorism; its ambition is much more modest in scope, centering upon traditional legal mechanisms and doctrines that can be adapted to deal with terrorism. Using the decisional law of France as an illustrative model, this article analyzes the transnational and political character of terrorist acts and seeks to establish the implications of those characteristics for litigation dealing with the extradition of terrorist offenders.

Following a line of previous studies, this article considers the French example, and its successes and failures in bringing legal sanctions to bear against terrorists. Until now, commentators have focused on the decisions of the Cour d'appel of Paris that related to celebrated cases involving the extradition of terrorists or would-be terrorists whose activities attracted worldwide attention. The present study attempts to reorient previous efforts by engaging in a more comprehensive study of the French jurisprudence and the French national policy on terrorism and the repression of international crime. The Paris court opinions are integrated into a wider judicial context and are compared to executive branch pronouncements int his area. Finally, this datum is assessed to determine whether, given the political underpinnings of this litigation, the courts can curb political pressure adequately and maintain the integrity of doctrine, articulating juridical norms which create a consistent framework for resolving these controversies and providing the international legal order with a much needed sense of stability.