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Immunities from the Law: Types and Definitions

Updated: Feb 8


Shelley Blake-Carey is the author of the article titled : Immunities from Law : Types and Definitions


Date of publication: 26/08/2023



What does the International Law explicitly state on Immunities?


PROTOCOL (No 7) ON THE PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES OF THE EUROPEAN UNION -Article 9 (ex-Article 10)

Each European Parliament Member shall have immunity:

· Immunities can be enjoyed in the diplomat’s own state. These immunities are reserved and applied to the European parliament members.

· Immunities can further be enjoyed in other Member States. This entails immunity from detention, investigation and legal proceedings.


Immunity applies to Members while they are travelling for work in Parliament, and cannot be claimed in the act of committing an offence. Members shall not prevent the European Parliament from exercising its right to waive the immunity.


What is the legal definition of immunities from the Law, and why do they Exist?


Immunity is an exemption from prosecution or penalty by statute or government authorities. Immunity law can be granted in various contexts. These contexts include criminal and civil cases, administrative proceedings, and legislative inquiries. Immunities exist to protect diplomats and the sovereignty of states by preventing states or their agents from prosecution in courts.


legal definition of immunity

What are the different types of immunities in this article?


Diplomatic, Qualified, Sovereign, Absolute, and Civil immunity are the different types of immunity defined throughout this article. Definitions assist with understanding the immunity a person may fall under when investigated by the law. Below there are the four main principles of immunity that anyone can fall into.


The four types of immunity:

  1. Witness immunity is a regularly used immunity from prosecution and is granted to someone in exchange for information or testimony in a criminal trial.

  2. Public officials’ protection protects officials and law chiefs from decision liability. This immunity is further extended to and protects the state, federal lawmakers, and executives.

  3. Sovereign or governmental immunity protects a sovereign state or agency from lawsuits without their consent.

  4. Diplomatic immunity is only granted to diplomatic personnel or government officials which exempts them from the legal prosecution of a foreign jurisdiction

What is Diplomatic Immunity?

Diplomatic immunity is a status granted to a diplomat. This immunity exempts agents from the laws of a foreign jurisdiction. This immunity is given by the state since The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961).


What is Qualified immunity?

Qualified immunity protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff's rights and is considered legal immunity. This immunity only allows suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right to continue into court.


What is Sovereign immunity?

Sovereign immunity is where the government cannot be sued without consent. This idea of consent is from the British idea, the king can do no wrong. Sovereign immunity is shown under the Feres Doctrine. The doctrine prevents those injured during their military service from suing the government.

What is Absolute Immunity?

This immunity is also known and referred to as absolute privilege, in defamation cases. This refers, to an individual being immune from liability for defamatory statements that would destroy their reputation or image. Recent Media examples in 2020, show the US’s desire for Prince Andrew to stand in court, for information on the Jeffery Epstein case. This was denied due to Prince Andrew's immunity for being a senior royal.


What is Witness immunity?

Witness immunity from prosecution is granted to someone in exchange for information or testimony during a criminal trial. This is usually given when there is lack of evidence. This person is offered this immunity for crucial facts in exchange for a lighter punishment.


Who do Immunities benefit?

The short answer is diplomats, these are the people who represent their country abroad. This protects them against prosecution in the receiving state for the entire period in which they hold diplomatic posts.

A longer answer is that the receiving state is not permitted to prosecute diplomats. The host state must protect the diplomats, along with the diplomat’s families and property. The aim of this Convention is to allow diplomats to carry out their work without hindrance and not risk reprisals from the latter state’s government.


What is good about immunities?


● The protections given to ambassadors and agents in their own and host country.

● Agents can enjoy the freedom of engaging in activities without scrutiny.

● Diplomats can perform their diplomatic duties without fear of oppression or reprisal.

● Diplomats are allowed to speak freely and address dissenting factions in the country.

● Agents can make negotiations with people considered political dissidents.


What is bad about immunities?


● Immunities make it difficult to hold officials who abuse their authority, accountable.

● Foreign officials do not pay for basic services resulting in unpaid debts.

● Businesses have difficulty in filing civil suits against diplomats for unpaid rent.

● Diplomats may use their immunity to avoid prosecution for traffic violations.

● Diplomats can use immunity to engage in other criminal offences in a host country.

● Community safety is jeopardised as authorities cannot question diplomats under diplomatic immunity.


Immunities can be argued to prevent acts of justice and hold individuals accountable. A counterargument is that officials are immune as long as their illegal were both necessary and related to their job role.


 

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