Consideration of state immunity where former head of state at issue


Re: HRH Prince Aziz v Harb [2015] EWCA Civ 481

The respondent claimed to be the ex-wife of the appellant’s father, i.e. the King of Saudi Arabia. The King was alleged to have assured the respondent that he will provide financial support to the respondent. The King stopped financially supporting the respondent in 1995, however, the appellant signed a contract confirming that he will honour his father’s promise.

It was the respondent’s case that the appellant was in breach of that contract.

The appellant claimed that he was at all times acting as the King’s agent, and therefore the respondent’s claim for breach of contract was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity pursuant to the State Immunity Act 1978, s 20, and accordingly sought to strike out the claim.

Held: dismissing the appeal, the Court held in this case it was not open to the appellant to rely on the doctrine of state immunity.

It was accepted that if the claim was against the King, and was made while he was the head of state of Saudi Arabia, it would have been barred by the doctrine of state immunity. However, the Court held that the doctrine did not apply to a former head of state, save for official acts performed while head of state.

The Court noted that the public policy reasons for doctrine, namely that that a head of state should be able to perform his functions without being distracted by litigation, but held that imposing liability for private acts once the person stopped being head of state would not frustrate this rationale.

Tim Owen QC was involved in this case.