Victory for domestic workers

The Supreme Court opens the door for exploited domestic workers in diplomatic household to obtain compensation in a landmark decision today.

The Supreme Court has decided that diplomats who profit by exploiting their workers in conditions of modern slavery cannot rely on diplomatic immunity to stop their domestic worker’s claim for compensation. A link to the judgment can be found here.

In a majority decision the Supreme Court has found in favour of the Appellant, Ms Wong, holding that her employer, a Saudi diplomat, held her in conditions of domestic servitude thereby substantially profiting from her labour.

This case answers the question left open by the earlier decision of the Supreme Court in Al Malki v Reyes [2017] UKSC 61 where the Supreme Court held that diplomatic immunity for past acts continues only if those acts were carried out in the exercise of diplomatic functions for or on behalf of a sending state. Alleged maltreatment of a domestic worker could not be said to be done for or on behalf of the sending state. In that case the diplomat had left the UK by the time the case came before the Supreme Court but in this case the diplomat is still in post.
The Court found a solution to the question posed by this appeal by finding that an abusive employment relationship amounting to domestic servitude is not incidental to a diplomat’s daily life and given that the diplomatic employer derives substantial profit from such an arrangement he will be engaging in a commercial activity which is expressly not covered by immunity in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.

DPG Partner Zubier Yazdani said:

‘For far too long diplomats have hidden behind the shield of immunity to conceal their abuses of their domestic workers. Today’s decision means that immunity no longer means impunity. Kalayaan’s tireless work on this issue is to be congratulated. Without its support domestic workers would not be able to seek out help to assert their rights’

Our client Kalayaan is the UK’s leading domestic worker NGO and has campaigned for many years for the rights of domestic workers. It has provided assistance to the court in this appeal and in the appeal of Reyes v Al Malki by way of a written intervention.

DPG Partner Zubier Yazdani and trainee Ralitsa Peykova instructed Tom Hickman QC and Flora Robertson of Blackstone chambers for Kalayaan.

Our client’s intervention was funded by the Strategic Legal Fund.

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