The Parlement Belge: CA 1879

An action in rem indirectly impleaded a sovereign who was the owner of the vessel served because his property was affected by the judgment of the court. An unincorporated treaty cannot change the law of the land and, ‘the immunity of the sovereign as is as least as great as the immunity of an ambassador.’
Brett LJ said that the reason for a sovereign’s immunity is ‘the character of the sovereign authority, its high dignity, whereby it is not subject to any superior authority of any kind,’ and he referred to Vattel’s statement: ‘S’il est venu en voyageur, sa dignite seule, et ce qui est du a la nation qu’il represente et qu’il gouverne, le met a couvert de toute insulte, lui assure des respects et toute sorte d’egards, et l’exempte de toute juridiction.’
‘From all these authorities it seems to us, although other reasons have sometimes been suggested, that the real principle on which the exemption of every sovereign from the jurisdiction of every court has been deduced is that the exercise of such jurisdiction would be incompatible with his regal dignity – that is to say, with his absolute independence of every superior authority. By a similar examination of authorities we come to the conclusion, although other grounds have sometimes been suggested, that the immunity of an ambassador from the jurisdiction of the courts of the country to which he is accredited is based upon his being the representative of the independent sovereign or state which sends him, and which sends him upon the faith of his being admitted to be clothed with the same independence of and superiority to all adverse jurisdiction as the sovereign authority whom he represents would be.
It has been held that an ambassador cannot be personally sued, although he has traded; and in both cases because such a suit would be inconsistent with the independence and equality of the state which he represents. If the remedy sought by an action in rem against public property is, as we think it is, an indirect mode of exercising the authority of the court against the owner of the property, then the attempt to exercise such an authority is an attempt inconsistent with the independence and equality of the state which is represented by such an owner. The property cannot upon the hypothesis be denied to be public property; the case is within the terms of the rule; it is within the spirit of the rule; therefore, we are of opinion that the mere fact of the ship being used subordinately and partially for trading purposes does not take away the general immunity.’
. . And: ‘In a claim made in respect of a collision the property is not treated as the delinquent per se. Though the ship has been in collision and has caused injury by reason of the negligence or want of skill of those in charge of her, yet she cannot be made the means of compensation if those in charge of her were not the servants of her then owner, as if she was in charge of a compulsory pilot. This is conclusive to shew that the liability to compensate must be fixed not merely on the property but also on the owner through the property. If so, the owner is at least indirectly impleaded to answer to, that is to say, to be affected by, the judgment of the court … To implead an independent sovereign in such a way is to call upon him to sacrifice either his property or his independence. To place him in that position is a breach of the principle upon which his immunity from jurisdiction rests. We think that he cannot be so indirectly impleaded, any more than he could be directly impleaded. The case is, upon this consideration of it, brought within the general rule that a sovereign authority cannot be personally impleaded in any court.’
Brett LJ
(1880) LR 5 PD 197
England and Wales
Appeal fromThe Parlement Belge AdCt 1879
Proceedings in rem were served on a mail packet owned by Belgium which had been involved in a collision. . .

Cited by:
CitedHiggs and Mitchell v The Minister of National Security and others PC 14-Dec-1999
(Bahamas) The applicants appealed against sentences of death, saying that the executions would be unlawful while there was a pending appeal to the OAS.
Held: The appeals failed. The Bahamas was a member of the Organisation of American States, . .
CitedBaccus SRL v Servicio Nacional Del Trigo CA 1956
The defendant organisation carried on business from Spain and was sued in England for damages for breach of a commercial contract. An appearance was entered by their solicitors in London and a consent order made for security for the organisation’s . .
CitedAziz v Republic of Yemen CA 17-Jun-2005
The claimant had made a claim for unfair dismissal. The defendant state had filed a defence instead of claiming state immunity. It then sought to assert such immunity. The claimant said the state had waived its immunity.
Held: Section 2(7) of . .
CitedDe Haber v The Queen of Portugal 1851
Orse In the Matter of Wadsworth and R of Spain In the Matter of De Haber and R of Portugal
Property in England, belonging to a foreign sovereign prince in his public capacity, cannot be seized under process in a suit instituted against him in . .
CitedAziz 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 . .
CitedNML 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 . .
CitedBelhaj 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 . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 15 January 2021; Ref: scu.182816