Dalhousie Law Journal

Article Title

Spaceship Sheriffs and Cosmonaut Cops


This paper examines some of the current legal regimes applicable to criminal law in outer space and offers insights into options for future legal developments in the cosmos. It begins by setting out the context for law enforcement in outer space, emphasizing the commercial nature of future space exploration and the need for laws and law enforcement in that environment. Next, various methods for assigning legal jurisdiction in space are examined, and the underlying justifications for the exercise of such jurisdiction are considered. The paper goes on to explore preventative approaches to space crime, highlighting the usefulness of such approaches given the fragile nature of human space exploration. In particular,the potential of state licensing and regulation as a crime-prevention tool is considered, and the successful preventative policies underlying the International Space Station's crew selection criteria are outlined. Procedural analogies for future law enforcement in space are then discussed, with emphasis placed on aviation laws and the legal relationships between masters and seamen. Finally, the paper looks toward the future of criminal law in the cosmos and advocates for the implementation of a universal criminal code for outer space. While noting that such a document may be a long time in coming on account of international political realities, it is nonetheless argued that such a code should be the ultimate destination for criminal law in the heavens.