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State Immunity in torture case


In a long-awaited and important public international law judgment, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the UK had not violated Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECtHR held that the grant of state immunity in a case of alleged torture reflected generally recognised rules of public international law.

The applicants allege that while living in Saudi Arabia in 2001 they were tortured by Saudi officials. Upon their return to Britain, the applicants sought to bring a civil claim for damages. The case reached the House of Lords in 2006, where it was held that both Saudi Arabia and its officials were entitled to immunity. Proceedings were issued against the UK in the ECtHR in late 2009.

By 6 votes to 1, the ECtHR has now followed the approach taken by the House of Lords, and ruled that the grant of immunity both to the State and to the defendant officials did not violate the applicants’ right of access to a court. The ECtHR went on to say that “... in light of the developments currently under way in this area of public international law, this is a matter which needs to be kept under review”.

The judgment is here.

Jemima Stratford QC and Richard Eschwege acted for the United Kingdom.