Nicholas Griffin QC comments on The Supreme Court judgment on Diplomatic Immunity in Trafficking Case

The Supreme Court today handed down judgment in the case of Reyes v Al-Malki and another (2017) UKSC 61, a decision on diplomatic immunity. A Saudi diplomat in London, who was no longer in post, was able to benefit from a narrower form of immunity than those in post. That immunity did not cover allegations of serious maltreatment made against him and his wife by a Filipino domestic worker, brought to the UK to work for them in London.

The case is at its most interesting – and disturbing – where it considers whether the seriousness of allegations of this sort should have a bearing on the availability of diplomatic immunity for those still in post. The allegations in this case included excessive work without payment, confiscation of her passport and stopping her from leaving the house and communicating with others (until she escaped). Lord Sumption (with Lord Neuberger agreeing) believed on a proper interpretation of the law that the diplomat would have been entitled to immunity had he remained in post, notwithstanding the serious nature of the allegations. Lord Wilson (Lady Hale and Lord Clarke agreeing), was less sure – and was pleased the court did not formally have to address the question. In a powerful judgment, he noted that the UK confronts a significant problem in relation to the exploitation of migrant domestic workers by foreign diplomats and further noted the universality of the international community’s determination to combat human trafficking. He stated also that “it is difficult for this court to forsake what it perceives to be a legally respectable solution and instead to favour a conclusion that its system cannot provide redress for an apparently serious case of domestic servitude here in our capital city.”

It is therefore grimly coincidental that this decision comes out on Anti-Slavery Day. The Anti-Slavery Day Act 2010 introduced this national day to raise awareness of the need to eradicate all forms of slavery, human trafficking and exploitation.

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