• Sunday, August 14, 2022

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Diplomats who exploit domestic staff won’t get immunity from prosecution, rules UK Supreme Court

Diplomats are normally protected from both criminal charges and civil cases in the countries where they are posted.

Representational image (iStock)

By: Pramod Thomas

THE UK Supreme Court has ruled that no diplomatic immunity should be given in modern slavery cases, according to a report.

Diplomats are normally protected from both criminal charges and civil cases in the countries where they are posted.

The top court held that a Saudi diplomat Khalid Basfar, accused of exploiting a Filipina domestic worker in London, did not have immunity in relation to the allegation, the BBC reported.

According to the report, the decision paves the way for the woman to seek compensation.

Basfar is a member of the diplomatic staff at Saudi Arabia’s embassy in London.

The case was brought by Josephine Wong, 30, who alleges she was forced to work for Khalid Basfar and his family in conditions of modern slavery.

Her lawyers said she was subjected to verbal abuse and was given only left-over food to eat when her employers were at home. They added that she was confined to the house at all times except to take out the rubbish. 

She alleged that she was made to work from 7 am until around 11.30 pm every day of the week, with no days off or rest breaks. Wong told the court that she was forced to wear a doorbell so her employers could summon her at any moment.

The court heard that she was brought to the UK from Saudi Arabia in 2016, and not paid anything for seven months. Then she was paid about £1,800 in one lump sum – a fraction of her contractual entitlement – and after that not paid again.

Wong managed to escape in 2018 and brought a claim against Basfar in an employment tribunal. But he said the claim should be struck out on the basis of his diplomatic protection.

Under article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution. But any commercial activity outside their professional work can be the subject of civil claims.

The Supreme Court now ruled that his alleged exploitation of her amounted to commercial activity.

“The extent of control over Wong’s person and dominion over her labour exercised by Basfar on the assumed facts of this case was so extensive and despotic as to place her in a position of domestic servitude,” the BBC report quoting the court order said.

“Further, on the assumed facts Basfar gained a substantial financial benefit by deliberately and systematically exploiting Wong’s labour for almost two years, initially for a fraction of her contractual entitlement to wages and latterly for no pay at all. This conduct is accurately described as a commercial activity practised for personal profit.”

Wong’s lawyer, Nusrat Uddin, told the BBC: “It’s justice at last for our client. And for all of the potential victims at risk of being exploited by diplomats. It allows recourse to take legal action and that’s extremely empowering.”

James Fookes, Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group Co-ordinator at the charity Anti-Slavery International, has said that the ruling is the first of its kind in the world and will shine more light on this serious issue and will hopefully lead the way to greater protection.

Mr Basfar’s solicitors declined to comment on the ruling. There was also no immediate response from the Saudi embassy in London.

Eastern Eye

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