A government minister has criticised the High Court’s rejection of a Saudi billionaire’s diplomatic immunity claim.
Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said that Mr Justice Hayden’s ruling “should not be upheld or endorsed” because it could leave British diplomats vulnerable to be “scrutinised, and their status unjustifiably curtailed” in other countries. Despite this objection, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision this week.
Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson – the third most senior judge in the country – heard the businessman’s appeal. He declared that Mr Justice Hayden was “entitled to conclude on the facts that [the man was] not entitled to immunity”.
Earlier this year, the High Court judge ruled that the billionaire’s claim was “spurious” and labelled it “an entirely artificial construct”. Following his divorce from his wife, the 60 year-old businessman asked to the Court to dismiss her claim for spousal maintenance because, as a diplomat, he should be exempt from legal proceedings.
Although he was a citizen of Saudi Arabia he had been appointed as a diplomat for the Caribbean nation St Lucia. He was named the island’s representative to the International Maritime Organisation, a United Nations body which deals with shipping regulations. Mr Justice Hayden believed the man had taken that post “with the sole intention of defeating [his wife’s] claims”.
The Saudi man’s legal team described the original decision as “a dangerous precedent for diplomats everywhere”.
In St Lucia earlier this month, members of the island’s opposition party called on their Prime Minister to explain how the man had been appointed as a diplomat despite not being a citizen.
Read the full Court of Appeal judgment here.