State Immunity Legal Definition:

A principle of international law which exempts a State from prosecution or suit for the violation of the domestic laws of another state.

Related Terms: Jus Cogens , Sovereignty , Immunity , Diplomatic Immunity , State

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Consider these words of Justice Louis Lebel of the Supreme Court of Canada in Amaratunga v. Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization:

"According to a general rule of customary international law, states enjoy immunity from the jurisdiction of other states. The International Court of Justice has held that state immunity derives from the principle of sovereign equality of states, which, as §2.1 of the Charter of the United Nations makes clear, is one of the fundamental principles of the international legal order.

"Like other jurisdictions, Canada has legislated on state immunity. Parliament has enacted the State Immunity Act which confers immunity from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts on foreign states, except in proceedings that relate to a commercial activity. Canada has adopted a restrictive approach to state immunity and rejected the absolute approach under which states had historically enjoyed immunity in all circumstances

"In the case of international organizations, unlike that of states, the prevailing view at present is that no rule of customary international law confers immunity on them.

On this basis, as an extension thereof, diplomats enjoy diplomatic immunity.

In Iran v Hashemi, Marie-France Bich of the Quebec Court of Appeal noted these words:

"State immunity is also an important norm of international law. It is enshrined in the State Immunity Act. However, while state immunity may apply to protect a state from prosecution or suit for the violation of the domestic laws of another state, or even for the violation of norms of customary international law...."

In Canada, as noted by Lebel, J. above, the "norm of international law" has been codified in Canada under a State Immunity Act as follows (extract only of §3 and §4):

"(A) foreign state is immune from the jurisdiction of any court in Canada.

"In any proceedings before a court, the court shall give effect to the immunity conferred on a foreign state ... notwithstanding that the state has failed to take any step in the proceedings.

"A foreign state is not immune from the jurisdiction of a court if the state waives the immunity conferred by ... explicitly submits to the jurisdiction of the court by written agreement or otherwise either before or after the proceedings commence; initiates the proceedings in the court; or intervenes or takes any step in the proceedings before the court."

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