Is there a need for a special criminal law for outer space?

The Canadian government has introduced a bill on liability for crimes committed on the moon. About why this was needed and how it is in general with the space crime code, says the scientific observer Nikolai Grinko.

Photo: depositphotos/Iurii

Mankind plans to return to the moon in the near future. And the first launch within the framework of the international Artemis program is tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2022. True, this will be an unmanned launch, but people will have to go on the next flight to the moon. Four missions are planned so far. It is assumed that an astronaut from Canada will participate in one of them. To coincide with this event, Maple Leaf Country is discussing Bill C-19, according to which “… a Canadian crew member who during a space flight commits an act that would be considered a crime in Canada, will be sentenced as if he had committed a crime in Canada”.

At first glance, it seems a little strange that a country would prepare for a mission in this way. In addition, here one can notice a legal incident: it turns out that the Moon can be considered “like Canada”, although neither outer space, nor other planets or their satellites can belong to any earthly state, according to the Outer Space Treaty. We believe that professional lawyers will easily deal with this contradiction.

But why was it necessary to introduce a “moon criminal” at all? It’s all about space tourism and plans to colonize celestial bodies.

For many years, the development of near-Earth space was carried out exclusively by the military. Each cosmonaut held a military rank and was consequently subject to military regulations, which by definition are much tougher and more specific than civil law. But in recent decades, civilians have begun to appear in space, to whom the statute does not apply. Of course, before the flight, each of them signed a large number of documents, contracts and obligations, which more or less cover regular and emergency situations that arise in orbit.

But so far, more than 550 people have already been in space, this number is growing exponentially, and there will be more and more civilians among them. Today, more than two dozen spaceports operate on Earth, thousands of satellites are in orbit, various countries are building spacecraft and planning missions, colonization of the moon and a trip to Mars are being prepared. At the same time, the main regulatory document – “Treaty on the Principles of the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies” – was drawn up back in 1967. In addition to it, there are many conventions, agreements and treaties, but they describe all the laws and regulations on state level.

Photo: depositphotos/Baranov_Evgenii

In a word, it is necessary to do something about the future space expansion of mankind from a legal point of view. And the Canadian bill is one of the first signs. Of course, none of the legislators expect that the astronaut will definitely commit a crime, but nothing can be done in this direction either. So far, the main principle is this: don’t invent new “alien” laws, try future space criminals according to the Earth criminal code, and we’ll see.

And if it seems to you that the problem is far-fetched, then you are wrong: the world’s first trial of an astronaut who committed a crime in orbit has already taken place. American Ann McClain was accused in 2019 of trying to gain illegal access to her ex-husband’s bank account while aboard the International Space Station.

McClain was eventually acquitted, the plaintiff was charged with providing false evidence, but lawyers long wondered what particular laws would have been used in this case.

Today, the expression “space pirate” looks at least comical. But more and more people will appear outside the Earth’s atmosphere, and not all of them will be one hundred percent law-abiding. This means that the next generation of earthlings will surely face space piracy. Although…

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