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A sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham (diplomatic immunity)

 

I always love a diplomatic immunity case.

This is the Court of Appeal’s decision in Al-Juffari v Estrada 2016

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/approved_judgment_rhd_estrada_v_juffali.pdf

 

and is the one that sent our much-beloved (Subs, check this please) Foreign Secretary off crying to the Guardian and other places because we can’t have our naughty English Courts inconveniencing Saudi billionaires or where will it end?

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/mar/22/hammond-criticises-judge-for-stripping-diplomatic-immunity-from-saudi-billionaire

Anyway, this relates to the claim by the Wife for a divorce in this country, and for a financial settlement. As the one detail that leapt out at me was the value of the former matrimonial home being about £100 million, one can see why.

Mr Al-Juffari claimed that the Court had no jurisdiction, because he was appointed by Saudi Arabia as the Permanent Representative of St Lucia.

At first instance, Hayden J made two decisions – first that in looking at this diplomatic immunity, the facts were that Mr Al-Juffari had not actually ever carried out any functions AT ALL in this role and this it was an

 

“artificial construct” designed to defeat the jurisdiction of the court;

This seems on the facts, quite reasonable to me. If you’re relying on a job to be your get out of jail card, at least have the decency to actually be doing that job. Otherwise it’s like playing Monopoly with someone who has at their immediate beck and call a printing firm to produce facsimile Get out of Jail cards as and when required.

[As a little tip, just don’t play Monopoly with Saudi billionaires – they are in a position to buy up Waddingtons*, and demand an immediate rule change in their favour be hand-delivered to every owner of a Monopoly set if they are losing.   * Now Hasbro. Grrr. On the plus side, the Dubai version of Monopoly has some truly amazing hotels. ]

 

Having referred to a number of cases in which the compatibility of the grant of immunity from jurisdiction with Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights (“the ECHR”) has been considered, the judge concluded at para 34:

“The cumulative impact of this case law is, in my judgement, to identify a balance that has evolved, designed to protect the ‘functionality’ or ‘effectiveness’ of a mission and to recognise the need to minimise abuse of diplomatic immunity. It is this balance which both underlies the policy considerations and establishes the proportionality of the restriction in ECHR terms. If ‘functionality’ is extracted from the equation, because no functions have been discharged or, to adopt Diplock LJ’s terms, the diplomat is not ‘en poste’, there can remain only unjustified privilege or immunity linked solely to the private activities of an individual. If such is the case both the policy considerations and the proportionality of restriction cannot be justified in Convention terms and cannot be said to pursue a legitimate claim sufficient to eclipse W’s right of access to a court.”

21.

The reference to Diplock LJ was to Empson v Smith [1966] 1 QB 426 at p 429C. At para 35(vi) of his judgment, the judge found that since his appointment, “H has not undertaken any duties of any kind in the pursuit of functions of office”. He said that W had provided persuasive evidence that H’s health was such that he was not in a position at present to fulfil any ambassadorial duties. At para 36, he said:

“H has sought and obtained a diplomatic appointment with the sole intention of defeating W’s claims consequent on the breakdown of their marriage. H has not, in any real sense, taken up his appointment, nor has he discharged any responsibilities in connection with it. It is an entirely artificial construct. I draw back from describing it as a ‘sham’, mindful of the forensic precision required to support such a conclusion.”

22.

At para 40, he said that he was “not prepared to accede to H’s request to strike out W’s Part III claim on his spurious assertion of diplomatic immunity, as I find it to be.”

 

However, the Court of Appeal had to disagree  (not that it was an artificial construct, but that the English Court had jurisdiction to inspect what was going on, rather than just taking the word of the Foreign Office that a person has diplomatic immunity)

 

Section 8 of the 1968 Act provides that, if a question arises in any proceedings before the English courts as to whether a person is entitled to any privilege or immunity, a certificate issued under the authority of the Secretary of State stating any fact relating to that question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact. I have set out at para 18 above the facts the truth of which is conclusively proved by the certificate in the present case. If the immunity of a Permanent Representative or diplomatic agent depends on establishing whether he has in fact performed the relevant diplomatic functions, then the certificate issued in this case is of little value. It does not purport to say anything about the functions performed by H. That is not surprising. The policy reasons justifying the conclusiveness of FCO certificates has been discussed most frequently in the context of issues relating to State immunity. For example, in The Arantzazu Mendi [1939] AC 256, Lord Atkin said:

“Our state cannot speak with two voices on such a matter [that is state sovereignty and matters flowing from it], the judiciary saying one thing, the executive another. Our sovereign has to decide whom he will recognise as a fellow sovereign in the family of states; and the relations of the foreign state with ours in the matter of state immunities must flow from that decision alone.”

 

 

As the FCP had provided a certificate saying that Mr Al-Juffari had immunity, that was the end of it.

 

The second question that Hayden J had to decide was whether Mr Al-Juffari was permanently resident in England. Why is that important? Well, because the  Specialised Agencies Convention and the Headquarters Agreement which governs what rights, privileges and immunities a person who is a Permanent Representative has says this:-

 

“(1) Every person designated by a Member of the Organisation as its Permanent Representative or Acting Permanent Representative and the resident members of its mission of diplomatic rank shall enjoy, for the term of their business with the Organisation, the privileges and immunities set out in Article V, Section 13 of the [Specialised Agencies Convention].

and

(2A) In addition to the immunities and privileges specified in paragraphs (1) and (2) of the article, the Permanent Representative and acting Permanent Representative shall enjoy, in respect of themselves and members of their families forming part of their households, for the terms of their business with the Organisation, the privileges and immunities, exemptions and facilities accorded to diplomatic envoys, in accordance with international law.

but

(5)…Paragraphs (2) and (2A) shall not apply to any person who is permanently resident in the United Kingdom; paragraphs (1) and (2A) shall only apply to a person so resident while exercising his official functions. “

So if Mr Al-Juffari was permanently resident in the United Kingdom, he would only be immune for actions undertaken as part of his official functions (and as we’ve already established, he hasn’t done any. He certainly didn’t marry his wife as part of those functions)

On the facts, it seemed to me rather dubious that he was permanently resident in the United Kingdom

H was born in the Lebanon in 1955. He is a Saudi national and domiciled in Saudi Arabia. He is a member of a large Saudi family of immeasurable wealth. The family has, throughout his life, had a close connection with the UK. In particular, a substantial property, Bishopsgate House, near Windsor Great Park was bought many years ago by H’s father as a family estate for use in summer holidays. The family also had a flat in London. For a time H attended Oxford University before going on to university in the US.

71.

For many years H has had a visa which enables him to spend 180 days in the UK each year without compromising his non-resident tax status. In common with men of his wealth and background, he crosses and re-crosses the world, largely by private jet, staying in properties in various countries owned by, or on his behalf, through elaborate financial structures. The figures produced by Mr Alammari show the division of H’s time over recent years to have been largely spent between Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and the UK; the majority of his time over the period being spent in Switzerland closely followed by Saudi Arabia.

Can one really be permanently resident in a country where the visa only allows you to spend 180 days there? Note also the lack of time in St Lucia…

However,

H has been married three times. His first marriage in 1980, was to Basma Sulaiman, a Saudi national. There were three children by that marriage, M, D & H; each of whom (in common with all H’s children) were born at the Portland Hospital in London. It is common ground that at least the eldest of those children has a British passport.

73. Critical to his ultimate finding that H was permanently resident in the UK, the judge found in relation to this marriage (as with each of his marriages) that ‘the family home was based in the UK’ and that the children were educated in England and speak English.

 

In his overall analysis, Hayden J reached this conclusion that the choice of Mr Al-Juffari as to where to raise his children was a magnetic factor, and thus he concluded that Mr Al-Juffari was permanently resident in England.  (I think he’s about as permanently resident in England as Sean Connery is permanently resident in Scotland, but the Court of Appeal say otherwise)

 

“65. In my survey of the background of H’s life (at para 51, above) I have endeavoured to identify key facts which point to permanent residence being established either in Saudi Arabia or in the UK. The fact that H does not enjoy leave to remain in the UK and that he is only permitted to visit for 180 days per year seems to drag the conclusion towards Saudi Arabia. Mr Pointer’s team have spent considerable time and effort drawing up a table setting out the number of nights H has spent in the UK on a yearly basis since 2009. That data has been further refined to include the average duration of trips to the UK and also the unbroken sequence of days spent here. This is helpful so far as it goes but, in my view, a qualitative rather than quantitative assessment is likely to illuminate intention more accurately. Of all the matters identified at para 50 one is, to my mind, magnetic in its attraction. H has been married three times. On each occasion the marriage produced children. For each reconstituted family unit the family home was based in the UK. W herself is habitually resident in the UK. The children of the first two marriages have all been educated here and, inevitably, all speak English. The youngest child, now from the third marriage, is pre-school age. There are three homes in the UK.

66. Where a man chooses to live with his wife and children, and I emphasise the element of choice, says a great deal, to my mind, about where he intends his home to be. When the circumstances of his life cause him to repeat that same decision throughout three marriages, it seems to me to signal an intention which is ‘unlimited in period’, to adopt Langton J’s phrase and therefore to qualify as permanent. I very much agree with Mr Pointer that both the case law and the Circular require me to give significant weight to H’s intentions but I have, on the facts of this case, come to a different conclusion from that contended by Mr Pointer. The evidence points very strongly, in my view, to establishing that these were the arrangements before H’s appointment and, on the basis that past behaviour is often a reliable predictor of future intention, the status quo was likely to continue. On this basis H also fails the ‘but for’ test in Jiminez v IRC (see para 48 above). By way of completeness I should add that I have not found it necessary to deploy either Article 6 of the ECHR or section 3 of the HRA to construe the meaning of permanent residence.

And thus, Mr Al-Jaffari does not get to hide behind diplomatic immunity to defeat his wife’s divorce claim. He won on the first point (where I think the facts were completely behind Hayden J but the law wasn’t) but lost on the second point (where I think the facts were pretty iffy but the law backed Hayden J up)

For the reasons that I have given, I consider that the judge was wrong to hold that H is not entitled in principle to immunity from W’s claim. But the judge was entitled to conclude on the facts that H is not entitled to immunity because he is permanently resident in the UK and the claim does not relate to any official acts performed by H in the exercise of his functions. I would dismiss the appeal. It is, therefore, unnecessary to consider the issues raised by the Respondent’s Notice.

 

The right outcome, although by a peculiar route. Having said that, I’m SURE Mr Al-Jaffari will appeal to the Supreme Court. The legal costs are miniscule compared to the sums that are being litigated here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

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