Supreme Court rules on the scope of State and Diplomatic Immunity

1 November, 2017

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Libya v Janah (Supreme Court, 18 October 2017)
Reyes v Al Malki (Supreme Court, 18 October 2017)

The Supreme Court has handed down two judgments concerning the immunity of embassies and diplomatic agents in relation to employment claims brought in the English courts by members of the service staff of diplomatic missions.

In Benkharbouche v Embassy of Sudan, the Court declared that two provisions of the State Immunity Act 1978, which prevented members of the service staff of two embassies from bringing employment claims before the English courts, are incompatible with Articles 6 and 14 of the ECHR. The Court further held that these provisions were in breach of Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and should be disapplied insofar as the claimants’ claims were derived from EU law. The full judgment can be read here.

In Reyes v Al Malki, the Court held that the employment of a domestic worker by a diplomatic agent was not a “professional or commercial activity” within the meaning of Article 31(1)(c) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, but that a diplomat who had left his post could not rely on continuing immunity since the employment and alleged treatment of the employee were not within the diplomat’s “official functions” within the meaning of Article 39(2) of the VCDR. The full judgment can be found here.

Jessica Wells acted for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in both cases, instructed by the Government Legal Department.

Toby Landau QC, Dan Sarooshi and Peter Webster acted for Libya in the Court of Appeal. Libya did not participate in the Supreme Court appeal.