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.
Held: A head of state’s immunity from prosecution extends only to official acts performed in exercise of his state functions. Acts of torture and taking of hostages cannot be part of that head of state function despite being undertaken with the state authority. ‘We apply customary international law as part of the common law, and we give effect to our international obligations so far as they are incorporated in our statute law; but we are not an international court. For an English court to investigate and pronounce on the validity of the amnesty in Chile would be to assert jurisdiction over the internal affairs of that state at the very time when the Supreme Court in Chile is itself performing the same task. In my view this is a case in which, even if there were no valid claim to sovereign immunity, as I think there is, we should exercise judicial restraint by declining jurisdiction.’
Lord Slynn of Hadley, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Steyn, Lord Hoffmann
Times 26-Nov-1998,  UKHL 41,  3 WLR 1456,  1 AC 61,  4 All ER 897
House of Lords, Bailii
Extradition Act 1989 8(1), State Immunity Act 1978, Criminal Justice Act 1988 134, Taking of Hostages Act 1982
England and Wales
Appealed from – Augusto Pinochet Ugarte and In the Matter of an Application for Leave To Move for Judicial Review Regina v Evans (Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate) Admn 28-Oct-1998
A provisional warrant had been issued by a magistrate for the arrest of the former president of Chile when visting London. The arrest had been in response to an extradition request from a judge in Spain and related to allegations of criminal acts by . .
Cited – Duke of Brunswick v The King of Hanover HL 31-Jul-1948
The Duke claimed that the King of Hanover had been involved in the removal of the Duke from his position as reigning Duke and in the maladministration of his estates.
Held: ‘A foreign Sovereign, coming into this country cannot be made . .
Cited – Buttes Gas and Oil Co v Hammer (No 3) HL 1981
In a defamation action, issues arose as to two conflicting oil concessions which neighbouring states in the Arabian Gulf had granted over their territorial and offshore waters. The foreign relations of the United Kingdom and Iran were also involved . .
Cited – Hatch v Baez 1876
(United States) The plaintiff claimed that he had suffered injuries in the Dominican Republic as a result of acts done by the defendant in his official capacity of President of that Republic. The Court accepted that because the defendant was in New . .
Cited – Playa Larga (Owners of Cargo Lately Laden on Board) v I Congresso del Partido (Owners) HL 1983
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 . .
Cited – 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.
Cited – Al-Adsani v Government of Kuwait and Others (No 2) CA 29-Mar-1996
The claimant alleged that he had suffered torture in a security prison in Kuwait, and he obtained leave to serve out of the jurisdiction on the Government of Kuwait, and on three individuals, one of whom at least was served, on the ground that he . .
Cited – Alcom Ltd v Republic of Colombia HL 1984
A bank account used to cover the day-to-day expenses of an Embassy, clearly served sovereign purposes and therefore was immune from enforcement measures. The Act of 1978 must be read against the background of customary international law current in . .
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 . .
These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 06 March 2021; Ref: scu.135004