Sovereign immunity has been upheld in the Court of Appeal in a case involving allegations that the former king of Spain harassed a woman over a two-year period.

The judgment handed down this month in Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn v Borbon y Borbon found that Juan Carlos I, who was king of Spain from 1975 until his abdication in 2014, was entitled to immunity in regards to the allegations which pre-dated his abdication.

Corinna Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn filed a harassment suit in 2020 seeking damages and an injunction.

Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn’s claim, supported by a sworn statement of truth, stated that the former king ‘used his agents and those of the Spanish state and/or their contractors’ to carry out some of the alleged harassment including vehicle and personal surveillance, trespassing on her property, hacking into her telephones and computers and co-ordinating a covert operation to enter and search her office and apartment in Monaco.

Juan Carlos I, who denies all allegations of harassment, sought an order declaring that the court had no jurisdiction because he was entitled to sovereign immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978.

The application was dismissed and later, permission to appeal was refused.

Permission to take the matter to the Court of Appeal was eventually granted but was limited to the allegations pre-dating the abdication.

In a written judgment, Lady Justice Simler said: ‘State immunity, ratione personae, attaches for acts performed by a head of state while in office. But even after a head of state (or other agent of the state) leaves office, they continue to enjoy immunity ratione materiae for acts performed by them as head of state while in office.

The judge rejected the suggestion that there was an applicable exception to immunity and found that the alleged acts were not those any ordinary citizen could have carried out.

‘A private individual could not ordinarily have procured the use of state machinery by the head of the state intelligence and security service,’ Simler said. The judgment stated that ‘where it applies, state immunity is an absolute preliminary bar that precludes any examination of the merits [of a case]’.

In upholding the appeal, Simler added: ‘Accordingly, the pre-abdication conduct alleged is immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of this country.’

Law Gazette

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *