Disclaimer: The author was counsel to the Intervener, Kalayaan, a charity that supports migrant domestic workers, some of whom have been trafficked. This post is written in the author’s personal academic capacity and does not necessarily represent the views of her client.
Last week the UK Supreme Court delivered judgments in two landmark cases on immunity. This post examines the Judgment in Reyes v Al-Malki on diplomatic immunity.
There is much of interest in the Reyes Judgment – the relationship between State and diplomatic immunities, approaches to treaty interpretation (including temporal dimensions), the appeal by Lord Wilson to the International Law Commission to take this issue forward (para 68), and the Court allowing a diplomat to be served by post to their private residence (para 16). I will focus on the approach to diplomatic immunity in the context of human trafficking.
The Court decided that Mr and Mrs Al-Malki, a former member of the diplomatic staff of the Saudi embassy in London and his wife, are not entitled to immunity from the claim brought against them by Ms Reyes, a Philippine national who was their domestic servant for two months in 2011. The appeal proceeded on the basis of assumed facts. Ms Reyes alleges that she had entered the UK with a contract showing that she would be paid £500 per month by Mr Al-Malki. Instead, she says she was paid nothing. She alleges she was made to work excessive hours, had her passport confiscated, did not have proper accommodation, and was prevented from leaving the house or communicating with others (para 1). She eventually escaped.
UK Visas and Immigration had found that there were reasonable grounds for concluding that Ms Reyes was a victim of human trafficking.
The Supreme Court decided on the basis of Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which sets out the residual immunity enjoyed by diplomats who are no longer in post:
When the functions of a person enjoying privileges and immunities have come to an end, such privileges and immunities shall normally cease at the moment when he leaves the country, or on expiry of a reasonable period in which to do so, but shall subsist until that time, even in case of armed conflict. However, with respect to acts performed by such a person in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission, immunity shall continue to subsist. (emphasis added)
The Judges unanimously held that the employment and maltreatment of Ms Reyes were not acts performed by Mr Al-Malki ‘in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission’ and he was therefore not immune.
Another provision of the Vienna Convention – Article 31(1)(c) – had formed the centrepiece of the parties’ arguments in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. It sets out an exception to immunity for diplomats who are currently in post:
A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. He shall also enjoy immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction, except in the case of :
(c) an action relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving State outside his official functions. (emphasis added)
Lord Sumption wrote the lead Opinion (with which Lord Neuberger agreed), disposing of the case on the basis of Article 39(2), but also analysing Article 31(1)(c) in depth. Lord Wilson agreed with Lord Sumption’s analysis of Article 39(2), but expressed ‘doubts’ regarding his interpretation of Article 31(1)(c), with Lady Hale and Lord Clarke sharing these ‘doubts’.
We thus have a straightforward, unanimous decision on the basis of Article 39(2) applicable to former diplomats, but we also have a split within the Court on the interpretation of Article 31(1)(c), with obiter ‘doubts’ on obiter reasoning. Read the rest of this entry…