Diplomatic Immunity in an Employment Context – Supreme Court Ruling

Diplomats are immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of host countries – but there are limits to that principle. The Supreme Court identified one such in an important decision concerning a domestic servant who claimed to have been trafficked and mistreated by a diplomat and his wife.

In a ruling that was subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal, an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled that it had no jurisdiction to consider the woman’s claim. That was on the basis that the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 afforded immunity to the diplomat in the performance of both his official and non-official functions. His wife also benefited from that immunity as a member of his family.

In upholding the woman’s appeal, and ruling that the ET did have jurisdiction to hear her claim, the Supreme Court noted that the diplomat and his wife had left the UK at the end of their posting. They were therefore only entitled to residual immunity under Article 39(2) of the Convention and that extended to exercise of official functions alone.

The employment of the woman to perform domestic tasks may have helped the diplomat in his mission, but it was not a diplomatic function nor was it done on behalf of the sovereign state that he represented. In its ruling, the Court noted the global determination to combat human trafficking and that the exploitation of migrant domestic workers by diplomats is a significant problem.

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