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Oppenheim's International Law - Volume 1 Peace, 9th Edition edited by Jennings, Robert; Watts KCMG QC, Arthur (19th June 2008)

Part 3 Organs of the states for their international relations, Ch.11 Consuls, Consular Organisation

Sir Robert Jennings qc, Sir Arthur Watts kcmg qc

From: Oppenheim's International Law: Volume 1 Peace (9th Edition)

Edited By: Robert Jennings, Arthur Watts KCMG QC

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 20 August 2019

Consular relations — Consulates — Diplomatic missions

(p. 1135) Consular Organisation

Heyking, Hag R, 34 (1930), iv, pp 830–44 Harv Research (1932), pp 207–9, 217–22 A Collection of the Diplomatic and Consular Laws and Regulations of Various Countries (eds Feller and Hudson, 2 vols, 1933) Gachet, Memento à l’usage des Chancelleries diplomatiques et consulaires (published under the auspices of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2nd ed, 1933) Lee, Consular Law and Practice (2nd ed, 1991), pp 34–41 Satow, pp 213–14.

§ 537  Different kinds of consuls

Consuls are either specially sent and paid for their consular work (career consuls),1 or they are appointed from individuals, in most cases businessmen, residing in the district for which they are to administer the consular post (honorary consuls).2 Career consuls are employed full time on their consular functions: honorary consuls carry out their consular functions besides following their ordinary callings. Some states appoint career consuls only;3 most states, however, appoint consuls of both kinds, according to the importance of the consular district, career consuls being appointed for important districts. A career consul enjoys in practice greater authority and a more important social position, and consular treaties often stipulate more extensive privileges for them. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations has special Articles defining the facilities, privileges and immunities of honorary consular officers.4

§ 538  Consular districts

As the functions of consuls are of a more or less local character, most states appoint several consuls in the larger states, confining the duties of each to certain districts of such territories, or even to a certain town or port only. Consular districts as a rule coincide with the provinces of the state in which the consuls administer their offices. Consuls in each consular district are generally independent of each other. The extent of the districts is agreed upon between the sending and receiving states.1 The consul appointed for a particular district is not entitled to exercise consular functions outside its boundaries,2 and the local authorities of that district are notified by the central authorities of the receiving state of the consul’s admission.3

(p. 1136) § 539  Different classes of consuls

Four classes of consular officers are generally distinguished according to rank: consuls-general, consuls, vice-consuls, and consular agents.1 A consular post will have an officer of one of these ranks as its head,2 and will take its title from his rank. Consuls-general are appointed either as the head of several consular districts, and have then several consuls subordinate to themselves, or as the head of one very large consular district. Consuls are usually appointed for smaller districts, and for towns or even ports only. Vice-consuls are assistants of consuls-general and consuls who themselves possess consular character and so can take the consul’s place in regard to all his duties; they are, according to the internal law of some states, appointed by the consul subject to the approval of his home state. Consular agents are agents with consular character, often3 appointed, subject to the approval of the sending state, by a consul-general or consul for the exercise of certain parts of the consular functions in certain towns or other places of the consular district. Consular agents are often not independent of the appointing consular officer, and do not correspond directly with the home state, since the appointing consul is responsible to his government for them.

§ 540  Consuls subordinate to diplomatic envoys

Although consuls may deal directly with their home government, they are, according to the internal law of most if not all states, nevertheless subordinate to the diplomatic envoy of their home state accredited to the state in which they administer their consular office. He will thus have authority and control over them, and can give them instructions and orders; and they will often have to ask his advice and instructions. On the other hand, the diplomatic envoy will protect the consuls if they are injured by the authorities of the receiving state. In many capital cities the sending state, rather than establish a separate consular post, will in its diplomatic mission have a consular section as part of the mission, to carry out consular functions.1


Sometimes formerly called consules missi.

Sometimes formerly called consules electi.

See Lee, Consular Law and Practice (2nd ed, 1991), p 565, for examples.

Articles 58–68. As to the precedence of honorary consular officers, see Art 16.5.

See Art 4 of the Vienna Convention. Bilateral treaties often provide for the sending state to prescribe the limits of the consular district and to tell the receiving state of them: see, eg Art 3 of the UK-USA Consular Convention 1951 (TS No 37 (1958)).

Except in special circumstances and with the consent of the receiving state: Vienna Convention, Art 6. See also Art 3(4) of the UK-USA Consular Convention 1951 (TS No 37 (1958)), and similar articles in other consular treaties. As to the exercise by a consular post in one state of consular functions in another state see Vienna Convention, Art 7.

See Vienna Convention, Art 14.

The so-called pro-consul is not a consular officer but a locum tenens only, during the temporary absence or illness of a consular officer; he possesses, therefore, consular character for such time only as he actually is the locum tenens. As to acting heads of consular posts, see Vienna Convention, Art 15. In Commonwealth countries consuls from other Commonwealth countries have often been called ‘deputy high commissioners’. This is, however, a form of diplomatic title (heads of Commonwealth diplomatic missions in other Commonwealth countries being traditionally known as high commissioners), and Commonwealth countries have generally come to regard diplomatic titles as only appropriate for posts in the capital city: see, eg as to Australia, Parliamentary Debates (Commons), vol 852, cols 42–3 (written answers, 5 March 1973), and as to Canada,Parliamentary Debates (Lords), vol 342, cols 1092–5 (22 May 1973).

Vienna Convention, Art 9. Consular officers who are not heads of posts may be given other designations.

A consular agent who is head of a consular post is in a different position from one who is not: see Vienna Convention, Arts 10, 11 and 35, and also Art 69 regarding consular agents who are not heads of consular posts.

See Vienna Convention, Art 70. As to the performance of consular functions by members of a diplomatic mission, see also § 486, § 491, n 4, and § 535, n 4.