The Acting Secretary of State to the Minister in Norway ( Phillip )
Sir: The Department has received the Legation’s No. 92, of June 2, 1931, with enclosures, in regard to a Norwegian court decree ordering the American Consul at Stavanger to withhold the delivery of a passport and other papers belonging to I. S. Rasmussen, an American citizen, pending the settlement of a case concerning his alleged indebtedness.
The Legation requests an expression of the Department’s opinion in relation to the Consul’s answer to the court, that he was unable to recognize the jurisdiction of the court in matters pertaining to the issuance and delivery of American passports, in view of the stipulations of article XIII of the Treaty of 1827 between the United States and Sweden and Norway with respect to the inviolability of archives and documents relative to the affairs of consulates.
In reply you are informed that the Department approves the action of the Chargé d’Affaires and that of the Consul. In general it may be stated that the rule has commended itself to universal acceptance that the archives and other official property of the Consulate are inviolable; that is to say, absolutely exempt from seizure or examination by the local authorities. This privilege belongs to the government which the foreign consul represents.
In this particular case the Consul was not before the Court and he was not given an opportunity to be heard. Consequently the Court’s resolution, which amounted to an injunction against the Consul, would doubtless have been vacated on appeal.
The inviolability of consular archives should undoubtedly exclude the competence of local courts to control the official actions of consuls in relation to official documents. Otherwise local courts would be in a position of controlling the official acts of consuls and interfering with the exercise of their discretion in performance of their official duties in connection with the handling of official documents.
Very truly yours,