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Supreme Court rules against diplomatic immunity for a former diplomat in relation to human trafficking

Date posted: 27 October 2017

Nusrat Uddin

Nusrat Uddin, a solicitor in our Public Law team, reports on a welcome judgement delivered by the Supreme Court last week, in relation to an employment claim brought by a potential victim of trafficking against their former diplomat employer.


The case of Reyes v Al-Malki [2017] UKSC 61 was brought by a domestic servant from the Philippines who alleges mistreatment by Mr and Mrs Al-Malki that amounted to trafficking. Mr Al-Malki was a member of the diplomatic staff of the Saudi Arabian embassy in London at the time of hiring Ms Reyes.


Ms Reyes brought a claim within the Employment Tribunal however the Court of Appeal held that Mr Al-Malki was entitled to diplomatic immunity under article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 (“the Convention”), and that his wife would also be protected as a family member. Mr Al-Malki’s post has since come to an end and he and his wife returned to Saudi Arabia. The Supreme Court held that once a diplomat’s posting has come to an end, their immunity is ordinarily limited to a “residual immunity” which applies only to acts performed in the exercise of “official functions” (limited to acts which are part of the diplomatic functions of the diplomatic mission) performed on behalf of the state which that diplomat represents. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the employment of Ms Reyes was not an act in the exercise of the diplomatic functions of the mission, nor was it done on behalf of Saudi Arabia, and consequently residual immunity could not be relied upon. We note that there was a view expressed (obiter) that Mr Al-Malki would have been entitled to immunity he had still been in post. The case will now be remitted to the Employment Tribunal for trial.


Last year the UK Foreign Office released data which showed that diplomatic immunity had been invoked eleven times in the UK in cases of serious crimes including human trafficking and child sex offences. The Supreme Court judgement in this case is a great victory for victims of trafficking claimants who face many hurdles in bringing both criminal and civil cases against their traffickers.


Here at Wilson Solicitors LLP we represent victims of trafficking in civil claims against their traffickers both in the Employment Tribunal and in the civil courts. In our experience labour exploitation is occurring at all levels of society, not only in the hands of diplomats. Indeed the National Crime Agency (NCA) reports that modern slavery is occurring in every town and city across the UK, stating the growth is being driven by international gangs increasingly recognising the amount of money they could make by controlling people within a huge range of economic sectors. However trafficking is not always on a large scale by organised gangs, in fact we see cases of abuse occurring at the hands of individual perpetrators who are on a low income with regular jobs themselves. As victims can be paid such little wages or in many cases nothing at all, their traffickers do not necessarily need to have the money and power that diplomats or gangs do. There is no set profile for a trafficker and indeed there is no typical victim. Consequently awareness of the widespread nature of modern slavery and human trafficking is increasingly crucial.


If you or someone you know require legal advice in connection with these issues and wish to speak to a lawyer in our Public Law Department, please contact us on 0208 885 7924.