Sadly, my gut instincts that I’d used the Lethal Weapon 2 gag about diplomatic immunity proved correct, and I’ve got nothing else. Believe me, I’ve tried…. I have utterly no reason to believe that Balki from Perfect Strangers was a diplomat, but at least I’ve made you think about Perfect Strangers again. Goodness, that was an awful show. Was it as bad as Small Wonder, a show involving a precocious child who also happened to be a robot? They are both about as relevant to this case.
But this is a case in which a woman who worked for the High Commission of X country (we never get to learn which) became involved in care proceedings – it being alleged that she had hit her children 4o times with a belt and shaved the head of one of the children as a punishment.
This is what the Judge found proved
- My judgment in October 2017 recorded the basis upon which the threshold criteria were satisfied. To summarise, the children had suffered significant physical and emotional harm as a result of the mother having smacked and slapped all of them; having hit all of the children with a belt using up two or three strikes; having thrown a shoe at D’s head causing injury; having shouted at D and threatening to send him to X if he did not behave and thereby scaring him; and having threatened to cut D’s hair as a punishment. That abusive behaviour towards the children was to be addressed by the mother engaging in therapeutic work, a detailed programme of which had been endorsed by me in my judgment. At that time, the mother had expressed a willingness to commit herself to the therapeutic work required. It is important to bear the above in mind when assessing the situation now.
The Court had to hear legal argument about whether :-
(a) She had diplomatic immunity at the time that the allegations had occurred and
(b) Whether her diplomatic immunity was a shield against care proceedings
A Local Authority v X and Others 2018
A lot of the judgment is quite dense, so I’m just going to give you the whistlestop highlights – if you’ve got a diplomatic immunity / care proceedings crossover case or when you get one in the future, you’ll want to read the whole case.
Just by way of context, by the time of this hearing, the LA plan was to rehabilitate all of the children to mother’s care, she would be moving back to X and the LA sought no orders. The Guardian vehemently opposed that plan. The older children wanted to go back to mother’s care, but in England, not in X country.
In terms of whether diplomatic immunity applied, as the mother had left the employment of the High Commission of X, a notice had been given. The diplomatic immunity ends 31 days after that notice. (So if you have diplomatic immunity and leave the job that attracts it, you still keep the immunity for 31 days after your last day. Who knew?)
- It is the FCO’s policy that, pursuant to Article 39(2) of the VCDR, individuals who enjoy privileges and immunities by reason of their diplomatic functions shall cease to enjoy them when they leave the country, or alternatively shall normally be considered to have ceased to enjoy them 31 days after their functions (or those of the person from whom that individual derives their privileges and immunities, in the case of a family member) come to an end.
The FCO certificate and the 31 days of grace had ended before the allegations were said to have happened, so diplomatic immunity would not have applied. However, the Court went on to consider and determine whether it would have been a shield in any event.
- Re B (Care Proceedings: Diplomatic Immunity)  EWHC 1751 (Fam),  1 FLR 241 considered the making of an interim care order in respect of a 13-year-old child of a member of the administrative and technical staff of a foreign mission who was found to have suffered serious non-accidental injuries consistent with repeated and severe hitting. The father and his family were accepted as having no immunity from care proceedings, which were civil proceedings, provided that they related to acts performed outside the course of the duties of the father. It was not suggested the beating and bruising of the child came within the scope of the duties of the father, and on this basis the court found the father, mother, and the child had no immunity from family proceedings and so continued the interim care order with the child being placed in foster care. Nothing in that decision suggested that the child lost her diplomatic rights and privileges by reason either of being the subject of an interim care order and/or being placed with foster parents [see paragraph 17].
Under diplomatic immunity, the person cannot be imprisoned or arrested. Neither is it possible to bring a civil lawsuit for actions that relate to the functions the person was carrying out as part of their duties. It is, however, possible to bring a civil case for behaviour or alleged behaviour which was outside of the duties of the diplomat. (It obviously isn’t part of your duties as a diplomat to hit your children with a belt)
The Effect of Diplomatic Immunity on the Court’s Jurisdiction
- Given the conclusions I have reached, neither the mother nor the children retained their diplomatic privileges and immunities which were lost on 31 January 2018.
- That conclusion does necessarily permit the court to make final care orders. Both Mr Newton QC and Miss McKenna QC sought to persuade me that the court had no jurisdiction to do so if the children retained their diplomatic privileges and immunities. Even if they do not, as I have found, there may be other obstacles to the court’s jurisdiction.
- The decision of the then President of the Family Division, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, in Re B [see above] suggested that there might be limits to the court’s power to enforce either interim or final care orders. Arguments that the court had no jurisdiction to make care orders were rejected in that case. The President considered Article 29, Article 30, Article 31 and Article 37(2) in coming to the following conclusion:
- “17. The father is within the group of administrative and technical staff of the embassy. Consequently, he and his wife and children enjoy, as I understand it, the following privileges under the 1964 Act which are relevant to these proceedings. His person is inviolable. His private residence is inviolable. He has immunity from criminal proceedings and is not obliged to give evidence in any proceedings. No measures of execution can be taken against him. He and his family are not, however, immune from civil proceedings in the case of acts performed outside the course of his duties. It has not been suggested to me that the beating and bruising of B come within the scope of the duties of the father. Prima facie, it would therefore appear on the written evidence before me that the father has no immunity from family proceedings, including care proceedings which are civil proceedings. This loss of immunity would also seem to apply to the mother and to B, who derive their immunity from the father.”
The President went on to consider whether she was able to make orders which could not ultimately be enforced. She did not find this to be an impediment and concluded that the making of an interim care order fell within the exception to Article 37(2) of the 1964 Act. She went on to consider whether the child was being detained under the interim care order and concluded that the child’s present situation did not breach her rights under Article 29 of the VCDR [paragraphs 32 and 35].
- Having come to those conclusions, the President recognised that there were limits to the power of the court to enforce any orders which might be flouted by either of the parents [paragraph 37]. Though it was not strictly necessary for her to consider the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights on the 1964 Act, she expressed the opinion that the European Convention Article 3 rights of the child had been breached. In those circumstances, the court as a public authority had a positive obligation to protect a child who had been exposed to abusive treatment which appeared to fall within article 3. Her final conclusion on the court’s jurisdiction reads as follows:
- “40. … if I were wrong in the view I have taken of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, leaving this court with jurisdiction to entertain the local authority’s application, I would find myself satisfied that such a result is necessary in order to read the 1964 Act in a way that is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.”
I respectfully adopt that analysis which also applies to the making of final care orders.
- In this case I am being asked to make final care orders in respect of S, E and SL. That course is opposed by the local authority and by the children’s mother. I have concluded that I do have the jurisdiction to make final care orders in respect of these children in circumstances where they have lost their diplomatic privileges and immunities. Though I was not required to do so, I would have come to the same decision if the children had retained their diplomatic privileges and immunities. My reasoning is as follows.
- The President in Re B held that any limitation on the power to enforce orders should not prevent orders being made. In that case there was little argument regarding enforcement and, in consequence, I do not regard the remarks made about the power of enforcement as determinative of the issue. It would be surprising in my view if the provisions of Article 37(2) permitted proceedings to be brought but did not also permit consequent orders to be enforced. It would also be contrary to the rule of law for a court to determine a person’s legal rights and then not enforce them. Principles such as the rule of law are well recognised in international law and are relevant, in my view, when interpreting the provisions of Article 37(2). In Jelicic v Bosnia (2008) 47 EHRR 13, European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a breach of Article 6(1) for the failure to enforce a final judgement in respect of the contents of a bank savings account. The Court declared in paragraph 38 as follows:
- “The Court reiterates that Art.6(1) secures to everyone the right to have any claim relating to his civil rights and obligations brought before a court or tribunal; in this way it embodies the “right to a court”, of which the right of access, that is the right to institute proceedings before courts in civil matters, constitutes one aspect. However, that right would be illusory if a contracting state’s domestic legal system allowed a final, binding judicial decision to remain inoperative to the detriment of one party. It would be inconceivable that Art.6(1) should describe in detail the procedural guarantees afforded to litigants – proceedings that are fair, public and expeditious – without protecting the implementation of judicial decisions. To construe Art.6 as being concerned exclusively with access to a court and the conduct of proceedings would indeed be likely to lead to situations incompatible with the principle of the rule of law which the contracting states undertook to respect when they ratified the Convention. Execution of a judgment given by any court must therefore be regarded as an integral part of the “trial” for the purposes of Art.6.”
- In this context I note that Article 31(3) of the VCDR contains no prohibition on enforcement for diplomatic agents in proceedings under the civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving state in respect of actions relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving state outside of his official functions [Article 31(1)(c)]. That Article also extends to members of the administrative and technical staff of a mission who do not enjoy immunity for acts performed outside the course of their duties. It is plain in this case that the mother’s behaviour towards her children was not within the course of her duties as a member of the administrative and technical staff of X High Commission. There was nothing in Article 31(1)(c) which prevented the enforcement of care orders in public law proceedings and the enforcement of such orders would, in my analysis, also be compatible with Article 29 which provides for the inviolability of the person of the diplomatic agent who shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention.
- The local authority, supported by the mother, sought to argue that the provision of foster care for the children comprised an element of detention contrary to Article 29. I do not accept that submission and neither did the President in Re B. The children presently placed in foster care were not locked in or prevented from leaving the home and therefore their present situation fell very far short of a breach of any rights they might have under Article 29 of the VCDR. That conclusion was supported by the judgment of the current President of the Family Division in in Re A-F (Children)  EWHC 138 (Fam) [see paragraphs 37-44]. There was nothing in the children’s circumstances in foster care which amounted to a deprivation of their liberty or an infringement of any rights they might have pursuant to Article 29 of the VCDR.
- Did the mother retain any residual rights and privileges which might prevent the making a final care orders in this case? Article 39(2) provides that, when the functions of a person enjoying privileges and immunities have come to an end, such privileges and immunities shall normally cease at the moment when he leaves the country or an expiry of a reasonable period in which to do so but shall subsist until that time even in case of armed conflict. However, with respect to acts performed by such person in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission, immunity shall continue to subsist. Here, it is clear that the mother’s residual immunity did not extend to acts performed outside the course of her duties such as are engaged in these proceedings.
- In conclusion I find that, should I consider the children’s welfare so requires, I have the jurisdiction to make final care orders in respect of these children, all of whom have lost their entitlement to diplomatic privileges and immunities as has their mother.
In short then
- Diplomatic immunity ends 31 days after the position ends
- If there is diplomatic immunity, it means that there can’t be an arrest or prosecution
- But if the behaviour is outside of the diplomats professional functions, a civil case (such as care proceedings can be brought)
- Making of an ICO is not a breach of the child’s diplomatic immunity in relation to detention
- It isn’t possible, however, to commit a parent with diplomatic immunity to prison for breach of a Court order
In the case in question, there was criticism of the Guardian’s position and the amount of work done. (This was the LA and mother’s position about that, rather than the judicial conclusion)
- I record that the Children’s Guardian has been criticised by the mother and the local authority. These criticisms were in effect (a) that she failed to meet with the children’s mother until August 2017 at which time the proceedings had been ongoing for many months; (b) in consequence, she had an inadequate understanding of the mother; (c) further, she had an inadequate understanding of the home circumstances and any change in those by not meeting with C, the children’s older sister, until 3 February 2018; (d) she entertained an unrealistic doubt in the mother’s obligation to return to X; and (e) she had a belief that X was a dangerous country per se where any children should not be required to live regardless of the quality of parenting they might receive. It was asserted that, for those reasons, I should approach her evidence with a considerable degree of caution.
The Court’s take was
- Although the Children’s Guardian’s recommendation was based on welfare considerations, with any impact of the children’s immigration status being consequential, the making of a final care order in relation to S on the basis that, should the mother be required to return to X, he would return to long-term foster care for the remainder of his childhood was a wholly disproportionate outcome. It was founded on an evidential basis about the risks in X which was not established to the relevant standard of proof and it represented, on one view, the making of an order which had the impermissible effect of depriving the Secretary of State for the Home Department of her power to remove S from the UK. As contended for by the Children’s Guardian, final care orders with a contingency plan for long-term foster care which precluded the return of all three children to X were also, in my view, impermissible for the same reasons.
- Though I understand the concerns expressed by the Children’s Guardian in this difficult and finely balanced case, I have concluded that she sought to protect the children from both their mother and their homeland and, in so doing, lost sight of the children’s welfare in the short, medium and long-term. Her evidence focused on the negatives in the relationship between the mother and children rather than attempting to balance these against the positive changes achieved by the mother during the entirety of the legal process. In coming to this conclusion, I do not accept all of the criticisms made of the Children’s Guardian by Miss McKenna though I was persuaded by her overall submission that I should be circumspect about accepting the recommendations made by the Children’s Guardian.
The children would be returning to the mother under a rehabilitation plan, and going back to X in due course, under no statutory orders.