UK Appeal Court agrees with St. Lucia in diplomat controversy
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Wednesday March 23, 2016 – The Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom (UK) has endorsed the position of the St. Lucia government that a High Court judge erred when he questioned the diplomatic status of the island’s Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Dr. Walid Juffali.
Dr. Juffali earlier this year failed in his attempt to use his diplomatic immunity to avoid a lawsuit brought by his ex-wife, with Justice Anthony Hayden saying he was satisfied that Dr. Juffali sought and obtained a diplomatic appointment in April of 2014 with the sole intention of defeating Christina Estrada’s claims following the breakdown of their marriage. The two were formally divorced in December of that same year.
“Dr. Juffali has not, in any real sense, taken up his appointment, nor has he discharged any responsibilities in connection with it. It is an entirely artificial construct,” the judge said at the time.
But while the Court of Appeal found Dr. Juffali to be a permanent resident of the UK, enabling his ex-wife to progress with her claim, it made clear that there was no question of his diplomatic appointment.
In a statement responding to the judgment yesterday, the St. Lucia government reminded that it had consistently maintained that waiving Dr. Juffali’s diplomatic immunity for the purposes of a divorce case would have created a dangerous precedent that could compromise current and future St. Lucian diplomats in the UK and elsewhere. That view, it said, was forcefully reiterated by the UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, and upheld in the definitive judgment by the Court of Appeal.
In an unusual step, the UK Foreign Office had submitted an opinion from Tim Eicke QC, saying the judge had made a mistake in attempting to scrutinize Dr. Juffali’s diplomatic status. The Foreign Secretary added that the High Court’s earlier ruling “should not be upheld or endorsed.”
In the evidence to the Court of Appeal, Hammond said the “judge erred in concluding that it was necessary (or permissible) for the court to ‘look behind’ the Foreign and Commonwealth Office certificate, which confirmed that [Juffali] had been appointed to the post of permanent representative of St Lucia to the IMO [and to consider whether (he) had taken up the post or exercised any functions in connection with it].”
The senior cabinet minister argued that only the “executive (acting through the FCO) as part of the royal prerogative of conducting foreign relations” can decide to “accept (or not) a diplomat”. In response to the earlier judgment, the Foreign Office reiterated the St. Lucian Government’s warning that diplomats could be hauled before the courts of any country in which they are serving and their position “scrutinized, and their status unjustifiably curtailed.”
“The Court of Appeal judgment acknowledges that Juffali’s accreditation as a diplomat was without a doubt legitimate,” the St. Lucia government statement said. “It acknowledged that if a question arises in any proceedings before the English courts as to whether a person is entitled to any privilege or immunity, a certificate issued under the authority of the Secretary of State stating any fact relating to that question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact.”
Questions had been raised about Juffali’s appointment, since he does not have any known qualifications in maritime law and there was no public record of him ever attending any meetings of the IMO.
But in its statement yesterday, the Kenny Anthony administration again defended the appointment. It said Dr. Juffali is an experienced diplomat and honorary consul to Denmark, and noted that his accreditation as a diplomat was approved by the IMO and immediately recognized and confirmed by the hosting nation – the UK. At no stage did the IMO, or the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, raise any concerns about the appointment, the government stressed.
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