Sunday, July 10, 2005

L&S: Ambassadorial Privilege as Polycentric Law

As an example of polycentric law, Tom just cited the case of ambassadors who are not subject to the same laws everyone else is – instead, they are (to some extent) able to live under the laws of their own countries. I don’t find this example terribly persuasive. It does demonstrate the narrow point Tom was making, that the existence of polycentric law does not mean total chaos, cats and dogs living together, and mass hysteria. Okay. But the relationship of ambassadors to regular citizens doesn’t strike me as a great model for social interaction in general. Ambassadors have a special loophole that allows them to dodge some of the rules that apply to everyone else, e.g., rules of the road, and sometimes to the detriment of others. The bad behavior of diplomats (or their children) does lead to nasty conflicts from time to time; if it doesn’t happen often, that’s probably because the number of ambassadors is small compared to population as a whole (even in D.C.). In addition, if ambassadors behave especially badly, they can be forced to leave – the legal equivalent of banishment. It’s also worth noting that ambassadorial privilege trumps the usual rules, so there is still a genuine hierarchy of jurisdiction, not simply coexisting rule sets for the very same people and activities. Here’s an interesting question: what happens when two ambassadors get in a car accident with each other?

1 comment:

Tom W. Bell said...

Point well taken, Glen. But as you ken, I offer NW D.C. not as a model polycentric order but rather only as a convincing proof that a non-monocentric legal order need not necessarily devolve into chaos.

I assume that intra-ambassdorial wrecks don't raise materially different issues from extra-ambassadorial ones. In either case, customary principles and special agreeements control, rather than local law.