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Authorisation to shoot down aircraft in the Aviation Security Act void
Press Release No. 11/2006 of 15 February 2006
Judgment of 15 February 2006
1 BvR 357/05
§ 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act (Luftsicherheitsgesetz - LuftSiG), which authorises the armed forces to shoot down aircraft that are intended to be used as weapons in crimes against human lives, is incompatible with the Basic Law and hence void. This was decided by the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court in its judgment of 15 February 2006. The Federal Constitutional Court held that the Federation lacks legislative competence to issue such regulation in the first place. According to the Court, Article 35.2 sentence 2 and 35.3 sentence 1 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz - GG), which regulates the employment of the armed forces for the control of natural disasters or in the case of especially grave accidents, does not permit the Federation to order missions of the armed forces with specifically military weapons. Moreover, § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act is incompatible with the fundamental right to life and with the guarantee of human dignity to the extent that the use of armed force affects persons on board the aircraft who are not participants in the crime. By the state's using their killing as a means to save others, they are treated as mere objects, which denies them the value that is due to a human being for his or her own sake.
Thus, the constitutional complaint lodged by four lawyers, a patent attorney and a flight captain, who had directly challenged § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act, was successful.
The decision is essentially based on the following considerations:
1. The Federation lacks the legislative competence to issue the regulation laid down in § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act. It is true that Article 35.2 sentence 2 and 35.3 sentence 1 of the Basic Law directly provides the Federation with the right to issue regulations that provide the details concerning the use of the armed forces for the control of natural disasters and in the case of especially grave accidents in accordance with these provisions and concerning the cooperation with the Länder (states) affected. The armed forces' authorisation to use direct armed force against an aircraft which is contained in § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act is, however, not in harmony with Article 35.2 sentence 2 and 35.3 of the Basic Law.a) The incompatibility of § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act with Article 35.2 sentence 2 of the Basic Law (regional emergency situation) does, however, not result from the mere fact that the operation is intended to be ordered and carried out at a point time in which a major aerial incident (hijacking of an aircraft) has already happened but in which the especially grave accident (intended air crash) itself has not yet occurred. For the concept of an "especially grave accident" within the meaning of Article 35.2 sentence 2 of the Basic Law also comprises events in which a disaster can be expected to happen with near certainty. The reason why an operation involving the direct use of armed force against an aircraft does not respect the boundaries of Article 35.2 sentence 2 of the Basic Law is, however, that this provision does not permit an operational mission of the armed forces with specifically military weapons for the control of natural disasters or in the case of especially grave accidents. The "assistance" referred to in Article 35.2 sentence 2 of the Basic Law is rendered to the Länder to enable them to effectively fulfil the task, which is incumbent on them in the context of their police power, to deal with natural disasters or especially grave accidents. Because the assistance is oriented towards this task which falls under the police power of the Länder this also necessarily determines the kind of resources that can be used where the armed forces are employed for rendering assistance. They cannot be of a kind which is, with regard to their quality, completely different from those which are originally at the disposal of the Länder police forces for performing their duties.
b) § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act is also not compatible with Article 35.3 sentence 1 of the Basic Law. This provision explicitly authorises only the Federal Government to order the employment of the armed forces in the case of an interregional emergency situation. The regulations in the Aviation Security Act do not take sufficient account of this. They provide that the Minister of Defence, in agreement with the Federal Minister of the Interior, shall decide in cases in which a decision of the Federal Government is not possible in time. In view of the fact that generally, the time available in such a context will only be very short, the Federal Government will, pursuant to this provision, be substituted not only in exceptional cases but regularly by individual government ministers when it comes to deciding on the employment of the armed forces in interregional emergency situations. This clearly shows that as a general rule, it will not be possible to deal with measures of the kind regulated in § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act in the manner that is provided under Article 35.3 sentence 1 of the Basic Law. Moreover, the boundaries of constitutional law relating to the armed forces under Article 35.3 sentence 1 of the Basic Law have been overstepped above all because also in the case of an interregional emergency situation, a mission of the armed forces with typically military weapons is constitutionally impermissible.
2. § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act is also not compatible with the right to life (Article 2.2 sentence 1 of the Basic Law) in conjunction with the guarantee of human dignity (Article 1.1 of the Basic Law) to the extent that the use of armed force affects persons on board the aircraft who are not participants in the crime.
The passengers and crew members who are exposed to such a mission are in a desperate situation. They can no longer influence the circumstances of their lives independently from others in a self-determined manner. This makes them objects not only of the perpetrators of the crime. Also the state which in such a situation resorts to the measure provided by § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act treats them as mere objects of its rescue operation for the protection of others. Such a treatment ignores the status of the persons affected as subjects endowed with dignity and inalienable rights. By their killing being used as a means to save others, they are treated as objects and at the same time deprived of their rights; with their lives being disposed of unilaterally by the state, the persons on board the aircraft, who, as victims, are themselves in need of protection, are denied the value which is due to a human being for his or her own sake. In addition, this happens under circumstances in which it cannot be expected that at the moment in which a decision concerning an operation pursuant to § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act is taken, there is always a complete picture of the factual situation and that the factual situation can always be assessed correctly then.
Under the applicability of Article 1.1 of the Basic Law (guarantee of human dignity) it is absolutely inconceivable to intentionally kill persons who are in such a helpless situation on the basis of a statutory authorisation. The assumption that someone boarding an aircraft as a crew member or as a passenger will presumably consent to its being shot down, and thus in his or her own killing, in the case of the aircraft becoming involved in an aerial incident is an unrealistic fiction.. Also the assessment that the persons affected are doomed anyway cannot remove from the killing of innocent people in the situation described its nature of an infringement of these people's right to dignity. Human life and human dignity enjoy the same constitutional protection regardless of the duration of the physical existence of the individual human being. The opinion, which has been advanced on some occasions, that the persons who are held on board have become part of a weapon and must bear being treated as such, expresses in a virtually undisguised manner that the victims of such an incident are no longer perceived as human beings. The idea that the individual is obliged to sacrifice his or her life in the interest of the state as a whole in case of need if this is the only possible way of protecting the legally constituted body politic from attacks which are aimed at its breakdown and destruction also does not lead to a different result. For in the area of application of § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act the issue is not the defence against attacks aimed at abolishing the body politic and at eliminating the state's legal and constitutional system. Finally, § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act also cannot be justified by invoking the state's duty to protect those against whose lives the aircraft that is abused as a weapon for a crime is intended to be used. Only such means may be used to comply with the state's obligations to protect as are in harmony with the constitution. This is not the case in the case at hand.
3. § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act is, however, compatible with Article 2.2 sentence 1 in conjunction with Article 1.1 of the Basic Law to the extent that the direct use of armed force is aimed at a pilotless aircraft or exclusively at persons who want to use the aircraft as a weapon of a crime against the lives of people on the ground. It corresponds to the attacker's position as a subject if the consequences of his or her self-determined conduct are attributed to him or her personally, and if the attacker is held responsible for the events that he or she started. The principle of proportionality is also complied with. The objective to save human lives which is pursued by § 14.3 of the Aviation Security Act is of such weight that it can justify the grave encroachment on the perpetrators' fundamental right to life. Moreover, the gravity of the encroachment upon their fundamental rights is reduced by the fact that the perpetrators themselves brought about the necessity of state intervention and that they can avert such intervention at any time by refraining from realising their criminal plan.
All the same, the regulation is void also in this respect because the Federation lacks legislative competence in the first place.