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Diplomatic Immunity (Tass Agency)

Volume 466: debated on Monday 4 July 1949

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22.

asked the Attorney-General whether his attention has been called to the recent ruling of the Court of Appeal in the case Krajina v. Tass Agency, to the effect that the agency in question is protected against actions for libel by diplomatic immunity; and whether he is considering amendment of the law of immunity in this and similar cases.

I have been asked to reply. The Court of Appeal decided, applying the existing law, that as, on the evidence before the Court, it did not appear that the Tass Agency was a legal entity separate from the Soviet Government on the ordinary legal principles applicable, the action would not lie. The immunity from suit of foreign States, their Governments and Government Departments is different from diplomatic immunity but rests equally upon an established principle of international law.

His Majesty's Government are studying the decision of the Court, but I am not yet in a position to state whether any change in the existing law will be thought necessary, and, as leave to appeal to the House of Lords has been given, I think in any case any statement at the present moment would be premature.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the law as interpreted by the Court of Appeal stands, it means that any agency sponsored by any foreign Government can libel anyone in this country from the highest in the land down to myself with complete impunity? Does he recognise that in the case of any Government less meticulously scrupulous about the courtesies than the Soviet Government, a very serious situation might be created?

I am advised that the alarming conclusions which the hon. Gentleman has drawn do not necessarily follow. At any rate, I should have thought that since the ordinary processes have not necessarily been exhausted, it would be premature for me to offer any opinion on those alarming conclusions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present law of immunity of sovereign States is based on nineteenth century conceptions of sovereignty—in most cases on the monarchy—which are quite out of date in modern conditions in which States take part in a great many activities, and that the law should be reconsidered?

I have already pointed out that this does not rest upon, although it is related to, the law of immunity, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect me to be drawn into the much wider implications of that false hypothesis.

Is the right hon. Gentleman content that we should all be liable to be called the same names as he is called in Moscow?