Jones v Ministry of the Interior of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and another (Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and another intervening); Mitchell v Al-Dali;

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
JudgeLORD BINGHAM OF CORNHILL,LORD HOFFMANN,LORD RODGER OF EARLSFERRY,LORD WALKER OF GESTINGTHORPE,LORD CARSWELL
Judgment Date14 June 2006
Neutral Citation[2006] UKHL 26

[2006] UKHL 26

HOUSE OF LORDS

Appellate Committee

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Hoffmann

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe

Lord Carswell

Jones
(Respondent)
and
Ministry of Interior Al-Mamlaka Al-Arabiya AS Saudiya (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)
(Appellants)
Mitchell

and others

(Respondents)
and
Al-Dali

and others

and
Ministry of Interior Al-Mamlaka Al-Arabiya AS Saudiya (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)
(Appellants)
Jones
(Appellant)
and
Ministry of Interior Al-Mamlaka Al-Arabiya AS Saudiya (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)
(Respondents) (Conjoined Appeals)

For the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

David Pannick QC

Joanna Pollard

(Instructed by Baker & McKenzie LLP)

Respondents:

For Jones

Michael Crystal QC

Jonathan Crystal

Julian Knowles

Hannah Thornley

(Instructed by Stock Fraser Cukier)

For Mitchell

Edward Fitzgerald QC

Richard Hermer

(Instructed by Bindman & Partners)

Interveners

Keir Starmer QC, Peter Morris and Laura Dubinsky for Redress, Amnesty, Interights and Justice (Instructed by Bhatt Murphy)

Christopher Greenwood QC and Jemima Stratford for the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Instructed by The Treasury Solicitors)

LORD BINGHAM OF CORNHILL

My Lords,

1

The issue at the heart of these conjoined appeals is whether the English court has jurisdiction to entertain proceedings brought here by claimants against a foreign state and its officials at whose hands the claimants say that they suffered systematic torture, in the territory of the foreign state. The issue turns on the relationship, in these circumstances, between two principles of international law. One principle, historically the older of the two, is that one sovereign state will not, save in certain specified instances, assert its judicial authority over another. The second principle, of more recent vintage but of the highest authority among principles of international law, is one that condemns and criminalises the official practice of torture, requires states to suppress the practice and provides for the trial and punishment of officials found to be guilty of it. Thus, like the Court of Appeal of Ontario in Bouzari v Islamic Republic of Iran (2004) 71 OR (3d) 675, para 95, the House must consider the balance currently struck in international law

"between the condemnation of torture as an international crime against humanity and the principle that states must treat each other as equals not to be subjected to each other's jurisdiction."

The proceedings

2

On 6 June 2002 Mr Jones, the claimant in the first action giving rise to this appeal, issued High Court proceedings against two defendants: the Ministry of Interior of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ("the Kingdom"), which (it is accepted) is for present purposes the Kingdom itself; and Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Aziz, sued as servant or agent of the Kingdom. He claimed aggravated and exemplary damages for assault and battery, trespass to the person, false imprisonment and torture in the Kingdom between March and May 2001. Permission was granted by Master Whitaker ex parte to serve the Kingdom out of the jurisdiction, and service was duly effected. Further permission was granted to serve Colonel Abdul Aziz, but he was not served. The Kingdom then applied to set aside service of the proceedings and to dismiss Mr Jones's claim on the ground of state immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978. On that ground, on 30 July 2003, Master Whitaker set aside service of the proceedings and refused permission to serve Colonel Abdul Aziz by an alternative method. With the master's permission, Mr Jones appealed to the Court of Appeal, contending that Part 1 of the 1978 Act was incompatible with article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

3

Messrs Mitchell, Sampson and Walker are the claimants in the second action giving rise to this appeal. They issued High Court proceedings on 12 February 2004 against four defendants. The first two defendants were sued as officers in the Kingdom's police force. The third defendant was sued as a colonel in the Ministry of Interior of the Kingdom and deputy governor of a prison in which the claimants were confined. The fourth defendant was sued as head of the Ministry of Interior. They claimed aggravated damages for assault and negligence, contending that they had been subjected to torture by the first two defendants, which the third and fourth defendants had caused or permitted or negligently failed to prevent. On 18 February 2004 Master Whitaker refused the claimants' ex parte application to serve the proceedings out of the jurisdiction on the ground of state immunity under the 1978 Act. With the master's permission, the claimants appealed to the Court of Appeal.

4

The claimants in both actions have pleaded particulars of severe, systematic and injurious torture which they claim to have suffered, and annexed medical reports which appear to substantiate their claims. But the facts have not been investigated in these proceedings at all, and the stage has not been reached at which the defendants can be called on to answer these very serious allegations. The Kingdom has indicated through counsel that the allegations are denied.

5

In the Court of Appeal the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs intervened, supporting the legal submissions of the Kingdom. The Redress Trust intervened in support of the claimants. In the House, the Secretary of State again intervened for the same purpose. The Redress Trust, Amnesty International, Interights and Justice made joint submissions in writing.

6

The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Jones's appeal against the dismissal of all his claims against the Kingdom, including his claim based on torture (but not including his claim in false imprisonment, which he had abandoned). But it allowed Mr Jones's appeal against refusal of permission to serve Colonel Abdul Aziz out of the jurisdiction by an alternative method, and it allowed the appeal of the three claimants in the second action against the refusal of permission to serve all four defendants out of the jurisdiction (save in respect of the claimants' allegations of negligence). The applications for permission to serve out of the jurisdiction in both actions were remitted to Master Whitaker for him to consider whether, in the exercise of his discretion, to grant permission to serve out. Mr Jones, the Kingdom and the claimants in the second action have all appealed against those parts of the Court of Appeal's orders which were adverse to them, save that none of the claimants has challenged the dismissal of his claims not based on torture. The main issues which the House must now resolve are twofold: first, whether the English court has jurisdiction to entertain Mr Jones's claim based on torture against the Kingdom; and secondly, whether it has jurisdiction to entertain the claims based on torture against Colonel Abdul Aziz in the first action and against the four defendants in the second.

The Law

7

Section 1(1) in Part 1 of the 1978 Act is headed "General immunity from jurisdiction" and provides:

"A State is immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United Kingdom except as provided in the following provisions of this Part of this Act."

The following provisions referred to, found in sections 2-11 of Part 1, specify proceedings in which a state is not immune. Section 14(1) provides that references to a state "include references to? (a) the sovereign or other head of that State in his public capacity; (b) the government of that State; and (c) any department of that government". Section 16(4) provides that Part 1 does not apply to criminal proceedings.

8

Part 1 of the 1978 Act represented a marked relaxation of the absolutist principle, described by Lord Atkin in Compania Naviera Vascongado v Steamship "Cristina" [1938] AC 485, 490, as "well established" and "beyond dispute", that

"the courts of a country will not implead a foreign sovereign, that is, they will not by their process make him against his will a party to legal proceedings whether the proceedings involve process against his person or seek to recover from him specific property or damages."

It was a relaxation prompted partly by decisions such as The Philippine Admiral [1977] AC 373 and Trendtex Trading Corpn v Central Bank of Nigeria [1977] QB 529, and partly by the European Convention on State Immunity signed on behalf of seven European states, including the United Kingdom, in May 1972 (Cmnd 5081), which together showed that the British absolutist position had ceased to reflect the understanding of international law which prevailed in most of the rest of the developed world. As compared with the 1978 Act, the 1972 Convention was differently set out. It provided in article 15 that "A Contracting State shall be entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of the courts of another Contracting State if the proceedings do not fall within articles 1 to 14". But articles 1 to 14 covered very much the same ground as sections 2-11 of the 1978 Act. Much more recently, in the United Nations Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property adopted by the General Assembly on 16 December 2004, the same approach is adopted. Article 5 provides that "A State enjoys immunity, in respect of itself and its property, from the jurisdiction of the courts of another State subject to the provisions of the present Convention", and a number of exceptions are again specified. This Convention is not in force, and has not been ratified by the United Kingdom. But, as Aikens J observed in AIG Capital Partners Inc v Republic of Kazakhstan [2005] EWHC 2239 (Comm), [2006] 1 All ER 284, 310, para 80,

"its existence and adoption by the UN after the long and careful work of the International Law Commission and the UN Ad Hoc...

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