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The Jadhav Case and the Legal Effect of Non-Registration of Treaties

Published on June 19, 2017        Author: 

Those following the legal tangle of the Jadhav Case closely would have noticed India’s (attempted) coup de grâce in its oral submissions regarding the bilateral Agreement on Consular Access of 21 May 2008 between India and Pakistan (“2008 Agreement”, Annex 10 in India’s Application Instituting Proceedings) – that it is unregistered and thus, incapable of being invoked. Pakistan’s oral submissions indicate that this Agreement will form a large part of its case on merits, which in fact, is far stronger than the Indian or Pakistani media give it credit for. Pakistan claims that, irrespective of guilt, the fact of arrest on “political or security grounds” exempts Jadhav from the right of consular access, as per paragraph (vi) of the Agreement, which reads as follows: “In case of arrest, detention or sentence made on political or security grounds, each side may examine the case on merits.” Pakistan interprets this examination “on merits”, as regarding the grant of consular access itself, making it a matter of discretion rather than right.

India met this contention head on in the oral stage, with a two-pronged argument. First, it argued that the 2008 Agreement does not purport to restrict or reduce consular access rights provided by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1963 (“VCCR”). According to India, the 2008 Agreement is for the purpose of “confirming or supplementing or extending or amplifying” (Art. 73 VCCR) the VCCR rights, to the extent that the Agreement “further[s] the objective of humane treatment of nationals of either country arrested, detained or imprisoned in the other country” (preamble of the 2008 Agreement). To that extent, the first part of the Indian argument is one of interpretation of paragraph (vi) of the 2008 Agreement. The argument is that the Agreement must not be interpreted as exempting those arrested on political or security grounds from consular access since such an interpretation would be contrary to its preamble, to the VCCR, and to the law of treaties, since Art. 41 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969 (“VCLT”) permits subsequent bilateral agreements only when they are harmonious with pre-existing multilateral treaties. India has not yet offered a counter-interpretation of paragraph (vi). However, a fair guess is that it will argue that the envisaged “examin[ation]…on merits” is for determining the grant of additional rights conferred by the Agreement (such as immediate release and repatriation) and not for the grant of basic VCCR rights themselves. Read the rest of this entry…