23 March 2020
On Friday 6 March, Lower Sixth Former Eliza gave a topical, and excellently delivered, Thinking Big lecture entitled ‘Diplomatic Immunity – a crucial system of protection or something used to abuse and exploit?’
Eliza explained that diplomatic immunity helps diplomats do an often difficult job by ensuring that they are not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution. She also shared former diplomat Christopher Meyer’s succinct definition of the traits required by a professional diplomat: ‘a quick mind, a hard head, a strong stomach, a warm smile and a cold eye’.
The history of diplomatic immunity, Eliza told us, goes back 100,000 years to when ancient tribes used it to protect messengers delivering, sometimes unwanted, messages between tribes. Much more recently, in 1961 the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations defined a framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries which formed the legal basis for diplomatic immunity. Eliza pointed out that although diplomats are exempt from criminal offences in the host country, they may not be exempt from jurisdiction in their home country.
Eliza’s interest in her topic was sparked by the high profile case of Harry Dunn. Harry Dunn died in August 2019 following a road traffic collision. His motorcycle collided with a car driven by the wife of a US diplomat working in the UK, who admitted to police she had been driven on the wrong side of the road. This became a diplomatic incident when she fled the UK, claiming diplomatic immunity.
Eliza shared some of the research she had subsequently done into the topic and laid out her thoughts on the possible options for the future of diplomatic immunity. Option one – leave things as they are, accepting that the current system is not perfect. Option two – revisit the boundaries of diplomatic immunity, certainly between peaceful democracies. Option three – ringfence particularly heinous crimes to sit outside the protection of diplomatic immunity.
Eliza concluded that she believes diplomatic immunity should continue in its current form as, while the current system is flawed, the overall protection it offers outweighs the harm.