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Judgment - Regina v. Bartle and the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and others EX Parte Pinochet (on appeal from a Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division)
Regina v. Evans and another and the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and others EX Parte Pinochet (on appeal from a Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division)

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It was suggested by Professor Brownlie that the American Restatement of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States was to the contrary effect. But I doubt if this is so. In vol. 1, para. 464 we find:

      "Former heads of state or government have sometimes sought immunity from suit in respect of claims arising out of their official acts while in office. Ordinarily, such acts are not within the jurisdiction to prescribe of other states. However a former head of state appears to have no immunity from jurisdiction to adjudicate."

The last sentence means only that it is competent for the court of the foreign state to inquire whether the acts complained of were official acts of the head of state, or private acts. Unless the court is persuaded that they were private acts the immunity is absolute.

    Decided cases support the same approach. In Duke of Brunswick v. King of Hanover (1848) 2 H.L. Cas. p. 1, a case discussed by Professor F. A. Mann in his illuminating article published in 59 L.Q.R. (1943) p. 42, the reigning King of Hanover (who happened to be in England) was sued by the former reigning Duke of Brunswick. It was held by this House that the action must fail, not on the ground that the King of Hanover was entitled to personal immunity so long as he was in England (ratione personae) but on the wider ground (ratione materiae) that a foreign sovereign

     "cannot be made responsible here for an act done in his sovereign character in his own country; whether it be an act right or wrong, whether according to the constitution of that country or not, the courts of this country cannot sit in judgment upon an act of a sovereign, effected by virtue of his sovereign authority abroad."

In Hatch v. Baez (1876) 7 Hun. 596 the plaintiff complained of an injury which he sustained at the hands of the defendant when president of the Dominican Republic. After the defendant had ceased to be president, he was arrested in New York at the suit of the plaintiff. There was a full argument before what would now, I think, be called the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, with extensive citation of authority including Duke of Brunswick v. King of Hanover. The plaintiff contended (just as the appellants have contended in the present appeal) that the acts of the defendant must be regarded as having been committed in his private capacity. I quote from the argument at p. 596-597:

     "No unjust or oppressive act committed by his direction upon any one of his subjects, or upon others entitled to protection, is in any true sense the act of the executive in his public and representative capacity, but of the man simply, rated as other men are rated in private stations; for in the perpetration of unauthorised offences of this nature, he divests himself of his "regal prerogatives" and descends to the level of those untitled offenders, against whose crimes it is the highest purpose of government to afford protection."

But the court rejected the plaintiff's argument. At p. 599 Gilbert J. said:

      "The wrongs and injuries of which the plaintiff complains were inflicted upon him by the Government of St. Domingo, while he was residing in that country, and was in all respects subject to its laws. They consist of acts done by the defendant in his official capacity of president of that republic. The sole question is, whether he is amenable to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state for those acts."

A little later we find, at p. 600:

      "The general rule, no doubt, is that all persons and property within the territorial jurisdiction of a state are amenable to the jurisdiction of its courts. But the immunity of individuals from suits brought in foreign tribunals for acts done within their own states, in the exercise of the sovereignty thereof, is essential to preserve the peace and harmony of nations, and has the sanction of the most approved writers on international law. It is also recognised in all the judicial decisions on the subject that have come to my knowledge."

The court concluded:

      "The fact that the defendant has ceased to be president of St. Domingo does not destroy his immunity. That springs from the capacity in which the acts were done, and protects the individual who did them, because they emanated from a foreign and friendly government."

In Underhill v. Hernandez (1897) 168 U.S. 250 the plaintiff was an American citizen resident in Venezuela. The defendant was a general in command of revolutionary forces, which afterwards prevailed. The plaintiffs brought proceedings against the defendant in New York, alleging wrongful imprisonment during the revolution. In a celebrated passage Chief Justice Fuller said, at 252:

      "Every sovereign state is bound to respect the independence of every other sovereign state, and the courts of one country will not sit in judgment on the acts of the government of another done within its own territory. Redress of grievances by reason of such acts must be obtained through the means open to be availed of by sovereign powers as between themselves."

The Supreme Court approved, at p. 254 a statement by the Circuit Court of Appeals "that the acts of the defendant were the acts of the government of Venezuela, and as such are not properly the subject of adjudication in the courts of another government."

    On the other side of the line is Jimenez v. Aristeguieta (1962) 311 F. 2d547. In that case the State of Venezuela sought the extradition of a former chief executive alleging four charges of murder, and various financial crimes. There was insufficient evidence to connect the defendant with the murder charges. But the judge found that the alleged financial crimes were committed for his private financial benefit, and that they constituted "common crimes committed by the Chief of State done in violation of his position and not in pursuance of it." The defendant argued that as a former chief executive he was entitled to sovereign immunity, and he relied on Underhill v. Hernandez. Not surprisingly the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this argument. At p. 557, they said:

     "It is only when officials having sovereign authority act in an official capacity that the act of state doctrine applies."

To the same effect is United States of America v. Noriega (1990) 746 F.Supp. 1506. The defendant was charged with various drug offences. He claimed immunity as de facto head of the Panamanian government. The court considered the claim under three heads, sovereign immunity, the act of state doctrine and diplomatic immunity. Having referred to Hatch v. Baez and Underhill v. Hernandez the court continued, at pp. 1521-1522:

      "In order for the act of state doctrine to apply, the defendant must establish that his activities are 'acts of state', i.e. that they were taken on behalf of the state and not, as private acts, on behalf of the actor himself. . . . That the acts must be public acts of the sovereign has been repeatedly affirmed. . . . Though the distinction between the public and private acts of government officials may prove elusive, this difficulty has not prevented courts from scrutinising the character of the conduct in question."

The court concluded that Noriega's alleged drug trafficking could not conceivably constitute public acts on behalf of the Panamanian state.

    These cases (and there are many others to which we were referred) underline the critical distinction between personal or private acts on the one hand, and public or official acts done in the execution or under colour of sovereign authority on the other. Despite the plethora of authorities, especially in the United States, the appellants were unable to point to a single case in which official acts committed by a head of state have been made the subject of suit or prosecution after he has left office. The nearest they got was Hilao v. Marcos (1994) 25 F. 3d 1467, in which a claim for immunity by the estate of former President Marcos failed. But the facts were special. Although there was no formal waiver of immunity in the case, the government of the Philippines made plain their view that the claim should proceed. Indeed they filed a brief in which they asserted that foreign relations with the United States would not be adversely affected if claims against ex-President Marcos and his estate were litigated in U.S. courts. There is an obvious contrast with the facts of the present case.

    So the question comes to this: on which side of the line does the present case come? In committing the crimes which are alleged against him, was Senator Pinochet acting in his private capacity or was he acting in a sovereign capacity as head of state? In my opinion there can be only one answer. He was acting in a sovereign capacity. It has not been suggested that he was personally guilty of any of the crimes of torture or hostage-taking in the sense that he carried them out with his own hands. What is alleged against him is that he organised the commission of such crimes, including the elimination of his political opponents, as head of the Chilean government, and that he did so in co-operation with other governments under Plan Condor, and in particular with the government of Argentina. I do not see how in these circumstances he can be treated as having acted in a private capacity.

    In order to make the above point good it is necessary to quote some passages from the second international warrant.

      "It can be inferred from the inquiries made that, since September 1973 in Chile and since 1976 in the Republic of Argentina a series of events and punishable actions were committed under the fiercest ideological repression against the citizens and residents in these countries. The plans and instructions established beforehand from the government enabled these actions to be carried out. . . .

     It has been ascertained that there were coordination actions at international level that were called 'Operativo Condor' in which different countries, Chile and Argentina among them, were involved and whose purpose was to coordinate the oppressive actions among them.

     In this sense Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and head of the Chilean government at the time, committed punishable acts in coordination with the military authorities in Argentina between 1976 and 1983 . . . as he gave orders to eliminate, torture and kidnap persons and to cause others to disappear, both Chileans and individuals from different nationalities, in Chile and in other countries, through the actions of the secret service (D.I.N.A.) and within the framework of the above-mentioned 'Plan Condor'."

    Where a person is accused of organising the commission of crimes as the head of the government, in cooperation with other governments, and carrying out those crimes through the agency of the police and the secret service, the inevitable conclusion must be that he was acting in a sovereign capacity and not in a personal or private capacity.

    But the appellants have two further arguments. First they say that the crimes alleged against Senator Pinochet are so horrific that an exception must be made to the ordinary rule of customary international law. Secondly they say that the crimes in question are crimes against international law, and that international law cannot both condemn conduct as a breach of international law and at the same time grant immunity from prosecution. It cannot give with one hand and take away with the other.

    As to the first submission, the difficulty, as the Divisional Court pointed out, is to know where to draw the line. Torture is, indeed, a horrific crime, but so is murder. It is a regrettable fact that almost all leaders of revolutionary movements are guilty of killing their political opponents in the course of coming to power, and many are guilty of murdering their political opponents thereafter in order to secure their power. Yet it is not suggested (I think) that the crime of murder puts the successful revolutionary beyond the pale of immunity in customary international law. Of course it is strange to think of murder or torture as "official" acts or as part of the head of state's "public functions." But if for "official" one substitutes "governmental" then the true nature of the distinction between private acts and official acts becomes apparent. For reasons already mentioned I have no doubt that the crimes of which Senator Pinochet is accused, including the crime of torture, were governmental in nature. I agree with Collins J. in the Divisional Court that it would be unjustifiable in theory, and unworkable in practice, to impose any restriction on head of state immunity by reference to the number or gravity of the alleged crimes. Otherwise one would get to this position: that the crimes of a head of state in the execution of his governmental authority are to be attributed to the state so long as they are not too serious. But beyond a certain (undefined) degree of seriousness the crimes cease to be attributable to the state, and are instead to be treated as his private crimes. That would not make sense.

    As to the second submission, the question is whether there should be an exception from the general rule of immunity in the case of crimes which have been made the subject of international conventions, such as the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages (1980) and the Convention against Torture (1984). The purpose of these conventions, in very broad terms, was to ensure that acts of torture and hostage-taking should be made (or remain) offences under the criminal law of each of the state parties, and that each state party should take measures to establish extra-territorial jurisdiction in specified cases. Thus in the case of torture a state party is obliged to establish extra-territorial jurisdiction when the alleged offender is a national of that state, but not where the victim is a national. In the latter case the state has a discretion: see article 5.1(b) and (c). In addition there is an obligation on a state to extradite or prosecute where a person accused of torture is found within its territory--aut dedere aut judicare: see article 7. But there is nothing in the Torture Convention which touches on state immunity. The contrast with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) could not be more marked. Article 4 of the Genocide Convention provides:

     "Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article 3 shall be punished whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers or public officials or private individuals."

There is no equivalent provision in either the Torture Convention or the Taking of Hostages Convention.

    Moreover when the Genocide Convention was incorporated into English law by the Genocide Act 1969, article 4 was omitted. So Parliament must clearly have intended, or at least contemplated, that a head of state accused of genocide would be able to plead sovereign immunity. If the Torture Convention and the Taking of Hostages Convention had contained a provision equivalent to article 4 of the Genocide Convention (which they did not) it is reasonable to suppose that, as with genocide, the equivalent provisions would have been omitted when Parliament incorporated those conventions into English law. I cannot for my part see any inconsistency between the purposes underlying these Conventions and the rule of international law which allows a head of state procedural immunity in respect of crimes covered by the Conventions.

    Nor is any distinction drawn between torture and other crimes in state practice. In Al-Adsani v. Government of Kuwait (1996) 107 I.L.R. 536 the plaintiff brought civil proceedings against the government of Kuwait alleging that he had been tortured in Kuwait by government agents. He was given leave by the Court of Appeal to serve out of the jurisdiction on the ground that state immunity does not extend to acts of torture. When the case came back to the Court of Appeal on an application to set aside service, it was argued that a state is not entitled to immunity in respect of acts that are contrary to international law, and that since torture is a violation of jus cogens, a state accused of torture forfeits its immunity. The argument was rejected. Stuart Smith L.J. observed that the draftsman of the State Immunity Act must have been well aware of the numerous international conventions covering torture (although he could not, of course, have been aware of the convention against torture in 1984). If civil claims based on acts of torture were intended to be excluded from the immunity afforded by section 1(1) of the Act of 1978, because of the horrifying nature of such acts, or because they are condemned by international law, it is inconceivable that section 1(1) would not have said so.