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Diplomatic immunity

No one can have escaped the recent news surrounding the tragic story of the biker killed in an accident with a US diplomat’s wife. Who does diplomatic immunity apply to and are there other “immunities” available to prevent prosecutions and claims against people who commit road traffic offences?

Hamish Douglas, by e-mail



The case to which you refer is the subject of an ongoing police investigation and therefore it would be wrong for me to comment on the allegations made against the driver. America appears to be standing by her alleged status of immunity whilst the Foreign Office is arguing that she has no such immunity.

Diplomatic immunity is an exemption from prosecution under the host country’s laws provided to diplomats in a foreign state. It is governed by something called the Vienna Convention (on Diplomatic Relations) and dates back to the early 1960s.

There are other immunities such as Crown Immunity. The Queen cannot be tried for a criminal offence (or face a civil claim) for this reason. Criminal cases are currently referenced “R –v- the accused”, R standing for Regina – that is the Queen – so she would be bringing a prosecution against herself which obviously she cannot do.

There is also state immunity which is a principle of international law that is often relied on by states to claim that the particular court or tribunal does not have jurisdiction over it, or to prevent enforcement of an award or judgment against any of its assets.



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