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30th October 2017

Diplomatic Immunity and Employment Claims

In a recent case, the Supreme Court confirmed that diplomatic immunity did not apply to a diplomat and his wife once the diplomatic mission had come to an end in a case where they had mistreated a domestic worker.

The Vienna Convention grants different degrees of immunity to those concerned with a diplomatic mission depending on their status and function. For example, diplomatic agents are given immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State and immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction, except for an action regarding any professional or commercial activity exercised by the agent outside of his official functions. In addition, a diplomat’s family members forming part of his household enjoy privileges and immunities.

In the case in question, Ms Reyes was employed as a domestic worker in the London home of a Saudi diplomat and his wife. She alleged that she had been mistreated in the following respects:

  1. She had worked excessive hours;
  2. She was not provided with proper accommodation;
  3. Her passport had been confiscated; and
  4. She was not allowed out of the house or to communicate with others.

Ms Reyes escaped on 14 March 2011 and brought claims in the Employment Tribunal for race discrimination, unlawful deductions from wages and failure to pay the national minimum wage. In August 2014 the diplomat’s mission came to an end and he returned to Saudi Arabia.

An Employment Tribunal considered that it had jurisdiction to hear Ms Reyes’ claims and the diplomat appealed the decision, arguing he and his wife were protected by diplomatic immunity.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that diplomatic immunity did apply. After a subsequent appeal, the Court of Appeal agreed that the Employment Tribunal had no jurisdiction due to diplomatic immunity.

Ms Reyes appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that diplomatic immunity had come to an end once the mission came to an end and that therefore the Employment Tribunal had jurisdiction to hear Ms Reyes’ claims. The basis was that the Vienna Convention states that once a diplomatic mission comes to an end, the diplomat ceases to enjoy immunity except regarding official acts during the mission. The Supreme Court did not consider the employment of domestic staff to come within the diplomat’s official functions.

Source: Chadwick Lawrence

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