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Court of Appeal overturns decision of QBD in relation to act of state doctrine, where the appellants were unlawfully abducted from Libya

Belhaj & Anor v Straw & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ 1394

Related Member(s):
Richard Hermer QC
Related Practice Area(s):
Human Rights, Public and Private International Law
Court:

In these proceedings the appellants sought a declaration of illegality and damages arising from what they contend was the participation of the British government in their unlawful abduction, kidnapping and removal to Libya in Mar 2004.

In Oct 2013 the matter was before the QBD (Admin) (Belhaj & Anor v Straw & Ors [2013] EWHC 4111 (QB)) and the Court ruled that the act of state doctrine operated as a bar to the claims and that the appellants’ causes of action were governed by the law of the place where the alleged conduct took place.

On appeal, the CA (Civ Div) overturned the decision of the QBD (Admin) in relation to act of state doctrine, but maintained the action was to be governed by the law of the place where the alleged conduct took place.

The Court gave 5 reasons for not barring the claim on the principle of state doctrine. Firstly, the allegations were of grave violations of international law and human rights. Secondly, the respondents in these proceedings were either current or former officers or officials of state in the UK government. Thirdly, the applicable principles of international law and domestic law were clearly established. Fourthly, if the Court were unable to exercise jurisdiction in this case the grave allegations would go uninvestigated and the appellants would be left without any legal recourse or remedy. Fifthly, although there was a risk of displeasing the UK’s allies or offending other states, this did not outweigh the need for the Court to exercise jurisdiction in this case.

Richard Hermer QC was involved in this case.