Suppose that a European country X (e.g. Germany) has a law against adults sleeping with people under the age of 16. Such a law, in this instance, would apply to anyone in German territory.

But suppose the law was that a German citizen isn't allowed to go to Asian country Y, where sleeping with 15 year olds is legal, and do in that country what is illegal under German law in Germany.

What is that called? The term I was thinking of was "extraterritoriality," but I was told that was a situation where the German was exempt from the law of the Asian country, e.g. China in the early 20th century.

2 Answers 2


You are looking for extraterritorial jurisdiction:

As the term indicates, it connotes the exercise of jurisdiction, or legal power, outside territorial borders.

This can include nations claiming jurisdiction over crimes in nearby bodies of water and to specific categories of crimes (such as sexual offenses against underage victims) committed by or against citizens while abroad.

Wikipedia has a summary, including a few different nations' application of extraterritorial jurisdiction. The Cornell Law Review has a very extensive essay, What is Extraterritorial Jurisdiction?

  • It practice though, are such laws often adhered to?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 9:07
  • 2
    @Pacerier A US soldier was murdered by a British citizen in Iraq. He was recently prosecuted in London under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/24-25/100/section/9?view=plain which forbids UK citizens commiting murder anywhere. See R. v Sardar, judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/…, press: theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/may/22/…
    – Calchas
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 13:29
  • Law & Order: SVU used a similar U.S. law as a plot point in one episode. If memory serves, the wording was akin to: "leaving the country for the express purpose of performing an act that would be illegal within the country." Although L&O frequently disclaims "this story does not depict any actual persons or events", I believe the stories do often tend to be, loosely, inspired by actual events - for example, there may have been a real case in the media involving that law, so the TV show's writers wrote an original story using it in order to be topically relevant. Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 21:42

In this specific situation, the law in question is criminal law, so the term you are looking for is the principle of personality.

This is usually codified alongside the principle of territoriality (which you mention in the first paragraph), the protective principle and the principle of universality. All of this applies to criminal law only.

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