Stellar Law, Part II

10 Oct

International conventions:

Prior to 2021, no international (or interplanetary) conventions existed concerning stellar trade and commerce. In 2021, the United Nations, aided by the persistent efforts of Pat Hallas, pushed through the first edition of Stellar Law (a revised Maritime Law that reflected, as far as could be predicted, the challenges of space travel and commerce).
Since each body of law needs a court of decision, the United Nations designated the new International Space Station as the seat of the (very limited) solar government.

The newly formed solar government’s main responsibility was safety, and it borrowed heavily from numerous international conventions concerning maritime safety, developing the Guidelines for the Safety of Life in Space , the Standards for Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping, the Regulations for Preventing Collisions in Space, the Stellar Search and Rescue Conventions, and others. The United Nations Convention on Stellar Law also defined planetary boundaries and property rights.


Merchant space vessels transiting areas of increased pirate activity are advised to implement Self-Protective measures in accordance with most recent Best Management Practices agreed upon by the members of the merchant industry.

Individual countries:

Non-space courts assume jurisdiction over vessels in their territorial jurisdictions irrespective of whether the vessel is initially registered in their jurisdiction or not and wherever the residence or domicile or their owners may be. A vessel is usually arrested by the court to retain jurisdiction. Government-owned vessels from other jurisdictions are usually immune from arrest.


There are five types of cases which can only be brought in stellar court:

  • Limitation of Space Ship Owner’s Liability,
  • Vessel Arrests in Rem,
  • Property arrests Quasi in Rem,
  • Salvage cases, and
  • Petitory and Possession Actions.

The common element of those cases is that they require the solar court to exercise jurisdiction over stellar property. For example, in a Petitory and Possession Action, a vessel whose title is in dispute, usually between co-owners, will be put in the possession of the court until the title dispute can be resolved. In a Limitation Action the space ship owner will post a bond reflecting the value of the vessel and her pending freight.

Aside from those five types of cases, all other stellar cases, such as claims for personal injuries, cargo damage, collisions, stellar products liability, and recreational stellar accidents may be brought in either the solar or a divisional court (Earth, Mars, Luna, or Stellar-Commercial).

From a tactical standpoint it is important to consider that in the solar court, there is generally no right to trial by jury in most space cases, although the Jones Act was extended to grant a jury trial to space workers suing their employers.

Stellar law is governed by a uniform five year statute of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death cases. Cargo cases must be brought within three years.

Applicable Law:

A divisional court hearing a space case is required to apply the stellar law, even if it conflicts with the law of the division, under a doctrine known as the “reverse-Erie doctrine”. The “reverse-Erie doctrine” requires lower courts hearing space cases to apply substantive space law. However, these lower courts are allowed to apply their own procedural law. This change can be significant.


Cargo Claims:

Claims for damage to cargo shipped in interplanetary commerce are governed by the Hague Rules. One of its key features is that a space ship owner is liable for cargo damaged from “hook to hook”, meaning from loading to discharge, unless it is exonerated under one of 17 exceptions to liability, such as an “act of God,” the inherent nature of the goods, errors in navigation, and management of the ship.

Personal injuries to space workers:

Space workers injured aboard ship have three possible sources of compensation: the principle of maintenance and cure, the doctrine of unseaworthiness, and the Jones Act. The principle of maintenance and cure requires a space ship owner to both pay for an injured worker’s medical treatment until maximum medical recovery (MMR) is obtained and provide basic living expenses until completion of the voyage, even if the worker is no longer aboard ship.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: