Retaliation and Neutral Rights

The readjustment of international law to the ever-changing conditions of maritime warfare has always presented problems of extreme difficulty. Particularly is this the case, when, as in the Napoleonic wars and the recent European conflict, belligerents, falling back upon the exceptional plea of necessity, attempt to modify the rights of neutral powers to their own advantage or even to involve them in the conflict. A question of this character, namely, the extent to which a belligerent in pursuing retaliatory measures against ‘alleged violations of international law by his opponent, may thereby abridge the admitted rights of neutrals, was raised in a recent English prize case, The Leonora,’ and, as the issues were ably argued both for the Crown and the claimants, the judgment rendered merits critical examination. The fact that the decision is rather a diffuse historical disquisition on the rights of belligerents to restrain neutral trade than such a concise statement of principle as we are wont to associate with an English judgment, will perhaps not obscure the simple and fundamental nature of the questions at stake.