Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Protocol Definition:

International agreements of a less formal nature than a treaty and which amends, supplements or clarifies a treaty.

Related Terms: Treaty

The United Nations Treaty Handbook defines a protocol as follows:

"A protocol, in the context of treaty law and practice, has the same legal characteristics as a treaty.

"The term protocol is often used to describe agreements of a less formal nature than those entitled treaty or convention.

"Generally, a protocol amends, supplements or clarifies a multilateral treaty.

"A protocol is normally open to participation by the parties to the parent agreement. However, in recent times States have negotiated a number of protocols that do not follow this principle. The advantage of a protocol is that, while it is linked to the parent agreement, it can focus on a specific aspect of that agreement in greater detail."

Relying on R. v. Ashford Remand Home, the 2011 Canadian encyclopedia of law (C. E. D.), within the chapter on International Law:

"The term protocol is usually reserved for an instrument that is added to an agreement either by way of annex or as a supplement, and it is not always entered into at the same time as the principal document."


  • R. v. Ashford Remand Home, [1987] 3 W.L.R. 1141 (House of Lords)
  • United Nations, Treaty Handbook (New York: Treaty Section of the Office of Legal Affairs, 2006), page 62

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