THE ORANGE BANNER – By Earl Stephen Huntley
Two weeks ago, St. Lucians were surprised by a report from a London tabloid, The Daily Telegraph (November 9 2015) that one of its diplomats, its representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London, a certain Saudi billionaire called Dr Wallid Juffali, was using his diplomatic immunity to shield himself from a lawsuit by an ex-wife whom he divorced last year and who was seeking greater financial compensation from his properties in England.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the legal immunity, which Dr. Juffali possesses as a St. Lucian diplomat was preventing his ex-wife, Christina Estrada, from filing legal proceedings against him in London and that the Government of St. Lucia had declined to waive his diplomatic immunity so that she could do so.
Not surprisingly, the story generated media and political waves in St. Lucia because St. Lucians generally were unaware that Juffali was a diplomatic representative for the country and in the current heat of electoral politics from impending general elections, every act by government and political parties is a cause for controversy.
Consequently, opposition politicians, talk shows, social media and the political platforms have all been falling over themselves to comment about the London tabloid story on Dr.Juffali, his wife, his appointment by St. Lucia and his diplomatic immunity.
The Government of St. Lucia on 11th November 2015 issued a press release on the matter, saying in part: “The lawyers for the former wife of Dr.Juffali have requested the government of St. Lucia to lift the diplomatic immunity of Dr.Juffali to finally compel Dr. Juffali to testify in the civil suit.
The Government of St. Lucia has expressed the view to the lawyers of the former wife that this is a civil matter in which it does not desire to get involved. In the view of the government, this is a private matter and to waive Dr. Juffali’s immunity for the purposes of resolving property disputes arising out of divorce proceedings will create a precedent that could compromise current and future diplomatic personnel and elsewhere”.
It is not known whether Christina Estrada’s lawyers attempted to file proceedings against Dr. Juffali and were told by Dr. Juffali’s lawyers that they could not and so they turned to the Government of St. Lucia; or if they were told by Government authorities in London that his diplomatic immunity was a barrier to their objectives.
In the latter case, that would have been a very strange reply from the British who surely are well versed in diplomacy and should have responded differently; for if her lawyers had not approached the courts or the Foreign Office on the issue, then they, Juffali’s lawyers, the Daily Telegraph, commentators here and the St. Lucia Government have all displayed an ignorance of the practice of the diplomatic privileges and immunities.
The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations at Article 31 makes it clear that diplomatic immunity does not extend to all civil and administrative matters. According to the Convention, a diplomat and members of his family forming part of his household, (provided they are not nationals or permanent residents of the host state) are immune from civil and administrative jurisdiction in the host state except in the case of:
- a real action ( i.e. an action to claim ownership or possession) relating to private immovable property situated in the host state, unless he holds it on behalf of the state he serves for the purpose of the mission;
- an action relating to succession in which he is involved as an executor, administrator, heir or legatee as a private person and not on behalf of the state he serves;
- an action relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by him in the host state outside his official function. This limitation applies in practice to his spouse and family.
Waiver of Diplomatic Immunity: The immunity from jurisdiction of an individual entitled to such protection may be waived only by his government. A waiver of immunity from civil or administrative proceedings does no more than allow the person concerned to stand trial; a second and specific waiver is required before the judgment can be put into effect.
In my view, according to this convention, Dr. Juffali does not possess diplomatic immunity when it comes to action by Christina Estrada to claim ownership of his private immovable property in the United Kingdom.
Consequently, St. Lucia cannot waive immunity for him in this case because it is not there to be waived. In my humble opinion, this is a case of much ado about a diplomatic nothing.