The concept of absolute immunity for a Sovereign adopts a theory of restrictive immunity in so far as it concerns the activities of a State engaging in trade: (Lord Wilberforce) ‘It was argued by the [appellants] that even if the Republic of Cuba might appear to be entitled to plead the state immunity, it should be denied that right on various grounds: that its acts were contrary to international law, or to good faith, or were discriminatory, or penal. On the view which your Lordships take these arguments do not arise, but I would wish to express my agreement with the judge and with Waller LJ as to their invalidity. The whole purpose of the doctrine of state immunity is to prevent such issues being canvassed in the courts of one state as to the acts of another.’
Lord Wilberforce, after reviewing the national and international authorities, held that the section gave statutory effect to the distinction in international law between acts jure imperii and acts jure gestionis. Its application depended on: ‘in considering under the ‘restrictive’ theory whether state immunity should be granted or not, the court must consider the whole context in which the claim against the state is made, with a view to deciding whether the relevant act(s) upon which the claim is based, should, in that context, be considered as fairly within an area of activity, trading or commercial, or otherwise of a private law character, in which the state has chosen to engage, or whether the relevant act(s) should be considered as having been done outside that area, and within the sphere of governmental or sovereign activity.’
and: ‘It is necessary to start from first principle. The basis upon which one state is considered to be immune from the territorial jurisdiction of the courts of another state is that of ‘par in parem’, which effectively means that the sovereign or governmental acts of one state are not matters upon which the courts of other states will adjudicate.’
 1 AC 244
State Immunity Act 1978 3(1)(a)
England and Wales
At QBD – Playa Larga (Owners of Cargo Lately Laden on Board) v I Congreso del Partido (Owners) QBD 1978
The trading or commercial activities of states are not protected by state immunity. The basic principle of international law is that all states are equal, the rule is ‘par in parem non habet imperium’. . .
Approved – Trendtex Trading Corporation v Central Bank of Nigeria CA 1977
The court considered the developing international jurisdiction over commercial activities of state bodies which might enjoy state immunity, and sought to ascertain whether or not the Central Bank of Nigeria was entitled to immunity from suit.
Appeal from – Empresa Exportadora de Azucar v Industria Azucarera Nacional S.A, The Playa Larga CA 1983
There had been a theft by Cuban sellers of one cargo of sugar, property in which had already passed to the buyers, and non-delivery of a second combined with trickery whereby the intended buyers were nonetheless induced to pay its price. The first . .
Cited – Regina v Bartle and The Commissioner Of Police For The Metropolis and Others Ex Parte Pinochet Ugarte, Regina v Evans and Another and The Commissioner of Police For The Metropolis and Others (No 1) HL 22-Nov-1998
The government of Spain had issued an arrest warrant and application for extradition in respect of Pinochet Ugarte for his alleged crimes whilst president of Chile. He was arrested in England. He pleaded that he had immunity from prosecution.
Cited – Regina v Bartle and Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and Others, ex parte Pinochet Ugarte; Regina v Evans and Similar (No 3) HL 24-Mar-1999
An application to extradite a former head of state for an offence which was not at the time an offence under English law would fail, but could proceed in respect of allegations of acts after that time. No immunity was intended for heads of state. . .
Cited – Jones v Ministry of Interior for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and others HL 14-Jun-2006
The claimants said that they had been tortured by Saudi police when arrested on false charges. They sought damages, and appealed against an order denying jurisdiction over the defendants. They said that the allegation of torture allowed an exception . .
Cited – Holland v Lampen-Wolfe HL 20-Jul-2000
The US established a base at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, and provided educational services through its staff to staff families. The claimant a teacher employed at the base alleged that a report on her was defamatory. The defendant relied on state . .
Cited – Aziz v Aziz and others CA 11-Jul-2007
The claimant sought return of recordings and of money paid to the defendant through an alleged fraud or threats. She was the former wife of the Sultan of Brunei and head of state, who now sought an order requiring the court to protect his identity . .
Cited – NML Capital Ltd v Argentina SC 6-Jul-2011
The respondent had issued bonds but in 2001 had declared a moratorium on paying them. The appellant hedge fund later bought the bonds, heavily discounted. Judgment was obtained in New York, which the appellants now sought to enforce against assets . .
Cited – Belhaj and Another v Straw and Others SC 17-Jan-2017
The claimant alleged complicity by the defendant, (now former) Foreign Secretary, in his mistreatment by the US while held in Libya. He also alleged involvement in his unlawful abduction and removal to Libya, from which had had fled for political . .
Cited – Reyes v Al-Malki and Another SC 18-Oct-2017
The claimant alleged that she had been discrimated against in her work for the appellant, a member of the diplomatic staff at the Saudi Embassy in London. She now appealed against a decision that the respondent had diplomatic immunity.
Held: . .
These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 13 March 2021; Ref: scu.220685