Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Diplomatic Immunity Definition:

Immunity extended to diplomat officers from criminal and civil jurisdiction of their host state.

Related Terms: Persona Non Grata, Diplomat, Consul, Sanctuary, Immunity, State Immunity

Immunity extended to diplomats from criminal and civil jurisdiction of their host state.

Extracts from the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations:

¶41(1). Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.

¶43. Consular officers and consular employees shall not be amenable to the jurisdiction of the judicial or administrative authorities of the receiving State in respect of acts performed in the exercise of consular functions (except), in respect of a civil action either arising out of a contract concluded by a consular officer or a consular employee in which he did not contract expressly or impliedly as an agent of the sending State; or by a third party for damage arising from an accident in the receiving State caused by a vehicle, vessel or aircraft.

In US v Enger, Justice Lacey of the United States District Court wrote:

"Diplomatic immunity in its contemporary aspect may be broadly defined as the freedom from local jurisdiction accorded under principles of international law by the receiving state to the duly accredited diplomatic representatives of other states....

"Diplomatic immunities are required on the ground of practical necessity. It is in the interest of the State accrediting a diplomatic agent, and in the long run in the interest also of the State to which he is accredited, that he should have such liberty as will enable him, at all times and in all circumstances, to conduct the business with which he is charged; and liberty to this extent is incompatible with full subjection to the jurisdiction of the country with the government of which he negotiates....

"The peculiar requirements of intercourse among nations have long been recognized. Part and parcel of the system developed for meeting these requirements is diplomatic immunity, the fundamental principles of which trace their roots to ancient China, India, and Egypt. The ancient Greeks, as the first to regularize diplomatic relations, included in their practice the exchange of ambassadors and concomitant personal inviolability....

"The full privileges and immunities of diplomatic status have traditionally been reserved to those of acknowledged diplomatic rank, performing diplomatic functions."

In order to minimize the injustice to citizens who are hurt in motor vehicle accidents caused by individuals benefiting from diplomatic immunity, many jurisdictions require that all members of the diplomatic corps, and their family members, ensure their motor vehicles, vessels and aircraft for damages caused by the operation of these vehicles.

This has caused egregious injustices in many cases, where a diplomat benefiting from diplomatic immunity has caused death or serious personal injury while driving under the influence of alcohol. In these instances, it is possible that the home state of the diplomat waive diplomatic immunity and subject the offender to the reach of criminal law in the jurisdiction where the motor vehicle accident occurred. Another option is for the jurisdiction where the motor vehicle accident occurred to expulse the diplomat, or for the home state of the diplomat to recall the diplomat and subject the diplomat to criminal proceedings in that home state.

In almost all cases, diplomatic immunity includes an exemption from testifying in court as a witness or of being required to answer to a subpoena.

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