Judgment - Regina v. Bartle and the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and Others Ex Parte Pinochet
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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In my opinion, crimes prohibited by international law attract universal jurisdiction under customary international law if two criteria are satisfied. First, they must be contrary to a peremptory norm of international law so as to infringe a jus cogens. Secondly, they must be so serious and on such a scale that they can justly be regarded as an attack on the international legal order. Isolated offences, even if committed by public officials, would not satisfy these criteria. The first criterion is well attested in the authorities and text books: for a recent example, see the judgment of the international tribunal for the territory of the former Yugoslavia in Prosecutor v. Anto Furundzija (unreported) given on 10 December 1998, where the court stated:

     "At the individual level, that is, of criminal liability, it would seem that one of the consequences of the jus cogens character bestowed by the international community upon the prohibition of torture is that every state is entitled to investigate, prosecute, and punish or extradite individuals accused of torture who are present in a territory under its jurisdiction."

The second requirement is implicit in the original restriction to war crimes and crimes against peace, the reasoning of the court in Eichmann, and the definitions used in the more recent Conventions establishing ad hoc international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Every state has jurisdiction under customary international law to exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction in respect of international crimes which satisfy the relevant criteria. Whether its courts have extra-territorial jurisdiction under its internal domestic law depends, of course, on its constitutional arrangements and the relationship between customary international law and the jurisdiction of its criminal courts. The jurisdiction of the English criminal courts is usually statutory, but it is supplemented by the common law. Customary international law is part of the common law, and accordingly I consider that the English courts have and always have had extra-territorial criminal jurisdiction in respect of crimes of universal jurisdiction under customary international law.

In their handbook on the Convention against Torture (1984), Burgers and Danelius wrote at p. 1:

     "Many people assume that the Convention's principal aim is to outlaw torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This assumption is not correct insofar as it would imply that the prohibition of these practices is established under international law by the Convention only and that the prohibition will be binding as a rule of international law only for those states which have become parties to the Convention. On the contrary, the Convention is based upon the recognition that the above-mentioned practices are already outlawed under international law. The principal aim of the Convention is to strengthen the existing prohibition of such practices by a number of supportive measures."

In my opinion, the systematic use of torture on a large scale and as an instrument of state policy had joined piracy, war crimes and crimes against peace as an international crime of universal jurisdiction well before 1984. I consider that it had done so by 1973. For my own part, therefore, I would hold that the courts of this country already possessed extra-territorial jurisdiction in respect of torture and conspiracy to torture on the scale of the charges in the present case and did not require the authority of statute to exercise it. I understand, however, that your Lordships take a different view, and consider that statutory authority is require before our courts can exercise extra-territorial criminal jurisdiction even in respect of crimes of universal jurisdiction. Such authority was conferred for the first time by section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, but the section was not retrospective. I shall accordingly proceed to consider the case on the footing that Senator Pinochet cannot be extradited for any acts of torture committed prior to the coming into force of the section.

The Convention against Torture (1984) did not create a new international crime. But it redefined it. Whereas the international community had condemned the widespread and systematic use of torture as an instrument of state policy, the Convention extended the offence to cover isolated and individual instances of torture provided that they were committed by a public official. I do not consider that offences of this kind were previously regarded as international crimes attracting universal jurisdiction. The charges against Senator Pinochet, however, are plainly of the requisite character. The Convention thus affirmed and extended an existing international crime and imposed obligations on the parties to the Convention to take measures to prevent it and to punish those guilty of it. As Burgers and Danielus explained, its main purpose was to introduce an institutional mechanism to enable this to be achieved. Whereas previously states were entitled to take jurisdiction in respect of the offence wherever it was committed, they were now placed under an obligation to do so. Any state party in whose territory a person alleged to have committed the offence was found was bound to offer to extradite him or to initiate proceedings to prosecute him. The obligation imposed by the Convention resulted in the passing of section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

I agree, therefore, that our courts have statutory extra-territorial jurisdiction in respect of the charges of torture and conspiracy to torture committed after the section had come into force and (for the reasons explained by my noble and learned friend, Lord Hope of Craighead) the charges of conspiracty to murder where the conspiracy took place in Spain.

I turn finally to the plea of immunity ratione materiae in relation to the remaining allegations of torture, conspiracy to torture and conspiracy to murder. I can deal with the charges of conspiracy to murder quite shortly. The offences are alleged to have taken place in the requesting state. The plea of immunity ratione materiae is not available in respect of an offence committed in the forum state, whether this be England or Spain.

The definition of torture, both in the Convention and section 134, is in my opinion entirely inconsistent with the existence of a plea of immunity ratione materiae. The offence can be committed only by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. The official or governmental nature of the act, which forms the basis of the immunity, is an essential ingredient of the offence. No rational system of criminal justice can allow an immunity which is co-extensive with the offence.

In my view a serving head of state or diplomat could still claim immunity ratione personae if charged with an offence under section 134. He does not have to rely on the character of the conduct of which he is accused. The nature of the charge is irrelevant; his immunity is personal and absolute. But the former head of state and the former diplomat are in no different position from anyone else claiming to have acted in the exercise of state authority. If the respondent's arguments were accepted, section 134 would be a dead letter. Either the accused was acting in a private capacity, in which case he cannot be charged with an offence under the section; or he was acting in an official capacity, in which case he would enjoy immunity from prosecution. Perceiving this weakness in her argument, counsel for Senator Pinochet submitted that the United Kingdom took jurisdiction so that it would be available if, but only if, the offending state waived its immunity. I reject this explanation out of hand. It is not merely far-fetched; it is entirely inconsistent with the aims and object of the Convention. The evidence shows that other states were to be placed under an obligation to take action precisely because the offending state could not be relied upon to do so.

My Lords, the Republic of Chile was a party to the Torture Convention, and must be taken to have assented to the imposition of an obligation on foreign national courts to take and exercise criminal jurisdiction in respect of the official use of torture. I do not regard it as having thereby waived its immunity. In my opinion there was no immunity to be waived. The offence is one which could only be committed in circumstances which would normally give rise to the immunity. The international community had created an offence for which immunity ratione materiae could not possibly be available. International law cannot be supposed to have established a crime having the character of a jus cogens and at the same time to have provided an immunity which is co-extensive with the obligation it seeks to impose.

In my opinion, acts which attract state immunity in civil proceedings because they are characterised as acts of sovereign power may, for the very same reason, attract individual criminal liability. The respondents relied on a number of cases which show that acts committed in the exercise of sovereign power do not engage the civil liability of the state even if they are contrary to international law. I do not find those decisions determinative of the present issue or even relevant. In England and the United States they depend on the terms of domestic legislation; though I do not doubt that they correctly represent the position in international law. I see nothing illogical or contrary to public policy in denying the victims of state sponsored torture the right to sue the offending state in a foreign court while at the same time permitting (and indeed requiring) other states to convict and punish the individuals responsible if the offending state declines to take action. This was the very object of the Torture Convention. It is important to emphasise that Senator Pinochet is not alleged to be criminally liable because he was head of state when other responsible officials employed torture to maintain him in power. He is not alleged to be vicariously liable for the wrongdoing of his subordinates. He is alleged to have incurred direct criminal responsibility for his own acts in ordering and directing a campaign of terror involving the use of torture. Chile insists on the exclusive right to prosecute him. The Torture Convention, however, gives it only the primary right. If it does not seek his extradition (and it does not) then the United Kingdom is obliged to extradite him to another requesting state or prosecute him itself.

My Lords, we have come a long way from what I earlier described as the classical theory of international law - a long way in a relatively short time. But as the Privy Council pointed out in In re Piracy Jure Gentium [1934] A.C. 586 at p. 597, international law has not become a crystallised code at any time, but is a living and expanding branch of the law. Glueck observed (op.cit. at p. 398) that:

     "unless we are prepared to abandon every principle of growth for international law, we cannot deny that our own day has its right to institute customs."

In a footnote to this passage he added:

     "Much of the law of nations has its roots in custom. Custom must have a beginning; and customary usages of states in the matter of national and personal liability for resort to prohibited methods of warfare and to wholesale criminalism have not been petrified for all time."

The law has developed still further since 1984, and continues to develop in the same direction. Further international crimes have been created. Ad hoc international criminal tribunals have been established. A permanent international criminal court is in the process of being set up. These developments could not have been foreseen by Glueck and the other jurists who proclaimed that individuals could be held individually liable for international crimes. They envisaged prosecution before national courts, and this will necessarily remain the norm even after a permanent international tribunal is established. In future those who commit atrocities against civilian populations must expect to be called to account if fundamental human rights are to be properly protected. In this context, the exalted rank of the accused can afford no defence.

For my own part, I would allow the appeal in respect of the charges relating to the offences in Spain and to torture and conspiracy to torture wherever and whenever carried out. But the majority of your Lordships think otherwise, and consider that Senator Pinochet can be extradited only in respect of a very limited number of charges. This will transform the position from that which the Secretary of State considered last December. I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Browne-Wilkinson that it will be incumbent on the Secretary of State to reconsider the matter in the light of the very different circumstances which now prevail.


My Lords,

The Spanish government seeks extradition of Senator Pinochet to stand trial for crimes committed in a course of conduct spanning a lengthy period. My noble and learned friend Lord Browne-Wilkinson has described how, before your Lordships' House, the Spanish Government contended for the first time that the relevant conduct extended back to 1 January 1972, and now covered a significant period before Senator Pinochet became head of state and thus before acts done in that capacity could result in any immunity. This change in the Spanish Government's case rendered critical issues that have hitherto barely been touched on. What is the precise nature of the double criminality rule that governs whether conduct amounts to an extradition crime and what parts of Senator Pinochet's alleged conduct satisfy that rule? On the first issue I agree with the conclusion reached by Lord Browne-Wilkinson and on the second I agree with the analysis of my noble and learned friend, Lord Hope of Craighead.

These conclusions greatly reduce the conduct that can properly form the subject of a request for extradition under our law. They leave untouched the question of whether the English court can assert any criminal jurisdiction over acts committed by Senator Pinochet in his capacity of head of state. It is on that issue, the issue of immunity, that I would wish to add some comments of my own.

State Immunity

There is an issue as to whether the applicable law of immunity is to be found in the State Immunity Act 1978 or in principles of public international law, which form part of our common law. If the statute governs it must be interpreted, so far as possible, in a manner which accords with public international law. Accordingly I propose to start by considering the position at public international law.

The nature of the claim to immunity

These proceedings have arisen because Senator Pinochet chose to visit the United Kingdom. By so doing he became subject to the authority that this state enjoys over all within its territory. He has been arrested and is threatened with being removed against his will to Spain to answer criminal charges which are there pending. That has occurred pursuant to our extradition procedures. Both the executive and the court has a role to play in the extradition process. It is for the court to decide whether the legal requirements which are a precondition to extradition are satisfied. If they are, it is for the Home Secretary to decide whether to exercise his power to order that Senator Pinochet be extradited to Spain.

If Senator Pinochet were still the head of state of Chile, he and Chile would be in a position to complain that the entire extradition process was a violation of the duties owed under international law to a person of his status. A head of state on a visit to another country is inviolable. He cannot be arrested or detained, let alone removed against his will to another country, and he is not subject to the judicial processes, whether civil or criminal, of the courts of the state that he is visiting. But Senator Pinochet is no longer head of state of Chile. While as a matter of courtesy a state may accord a visitor of Senator Pinochet's distinction certain privileges, it is under no legal obligation to do so. He accepts, and Chile accepts, that this country no longer owes him any duty under international law by reason of his status ratione personae. Immunity is claimed, ratione materiae, on the ground that the subject matter of the extradition process is the conduct by Senator Pinochet of his official functions when he was head of state. The claim is put thus in his written case:

     "There is no distinction to be made between a head of state, a former head of state, a state official or a former state official in respect of official acts performed under colour of their office. Immunity will attach to all official acts which are imputable or attributable to the state. It is therefore the nature of the conduct and the capacity of the Respondent at the time of the conduct alleged, not the capacity of the Respondent at  the time of any suit, that is relevant."

We are not, of course, here concerned with a civil suit but with proceedings that are criminal in nature. Principles of the law of immunity that apply in relation to civil litigation will not necessarily apply to a criminal prosecution. The nature of the process with which this appeal is concerned is not a prosecution but extradition. The critical issue that the court has to address in that process is, however, whether the conduct of Senator Pinochet which forms the subject of the extradition request constituted a crime or crimes under English law. The argument in relation to extradition has proceeded on the premise that the same principles apply that would apply if Senator Pinochet were being prosecuted in this country for the conduct in question. It seems to me that that is an appropriate premise on which to proceed.

Why is it said to be contrary to international law to prosecute someone who was once head of state, or a state official, in respect of acts committed in his official capacity? It is common ground that the basis of the immunity claimed is an obligation owed to Chile, not to Senator Pinochet. The immunity asserted is Chile's. Were these civil proceedings in which damages were claimed in respect of acts committed by Senator Pinochet in the government of Chile, Chile could argue that it was itself indirectly impleaded. That argument does not run where the proceedings are criminal and where the issue is Senator Pinochet's personal responsibility, not that of Chile. The following general principles are advanced in Chile's written case as supporting the immunity claimed:

     "(a) the sovereign equality of states and the maintenance of international relations require that the courts of one state will not adjudicate on the governmental acts of another state;   

      (b) intervention in the internal affairs of other states is prohibited by international law;

      (c) conflict in international relations will be caused by such adjudication or intervention."

These principles are illustrated by the following passage from Hatch v. Baez (1876) 7 Hun. 596, 5 Am. Int. L. Cas. 434, a case in which the former President of the Dominican Republic was sued in New York for injuries allegedly sustained at his hands in San Domingo.

     "The counsel for the plaintiff relies on the general principle, that all persons, of whatever rank or condition, whether in or out of office, are liable to be sued by them in violation of law. Conceding the truth and universality of that principle, it does not establish the jurisdiction of our tribunals to take cognizance of the official acts of foreign governments. We think that, by the universal comity of nations and the established rules of international law, the courts of one country are bound to abstain from sitting in judgement on the acts of another government done within its own territory. Each state is sovereign throughout its domain. The acts of the defendant for which he is sued were done by him in the exercise of that part of the sovereignty of St. Domingo which belongs to the executive department of that government. To make him amenable to a foreign jurisdiction for such acts, would be a direct assault upon the sovereignty and independence of his country. The only remedy for such wrongs must be sought through the intervention of the government of the person injured.

     "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."

This statement was made in the context of civil proceedings. I propose to turn to the sources of international law to see whether they establish that those principles have given rise to a rule of immunity in relation to criminal proceedings.

The sources of immunity

Many rules of public international law are founded upon or reflected in Conventions. This is true of those rules of state immunity which relate to civil suit--see the European Convention on State Immunity 1972. It is not, however, true of state immunity in relation to criminal proceedings. The primary source of international law is custom, that is "a clear and continuous habit of doing certain actions which has grown up under the conviction that these actions are, according to international law, obligatory or right"--Oppenheim's International Law, 9th ed. p. 27. Other sources of international law are judicial decisions, the writing of authors and "the general principles of law recognised by all civilised nations"--see Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice. To what extent can the immunity asserted in this appeal be traced to such sources?


In what circumstances might a head of state or other state official commit a criminal offence under the law of a foreign state in the course of the performance of his official duties?

Prior to the developments in international law which have taken place in the last fifty years, the answer is very few. Had the events with which this appeal is concerned occurred in the 19th century, there could have been no question of Senator Pinochet being subjected to criminal proceedings in this country in respect of acts, however heinous, committed in Chile. This would not have been because he would have been entitled to immunity from process, but for a more fundamental reason. He would have committed no crime under the law of England and the courts of England would not have purported to exercise a criminal jurisdiction in respect of the conduct in Chile of any national of that state. I have no doubt that the same would have been true of the courts of Spain. Under international practice criminal law was territorial. This accorded with the fundamental principle of international law that one state must not intervene in the internal affairs of another. For one state to have legislated to make criminal acts committed within the territory of another state by the nationals of the latter would have infringed this principle. So it would to have exercised jurisdiction in respect of such acts. An official of one state could only commit a crime under the law of another state by going to that state and committing a criminal act there. It is certainly possible to envisage a diplomat committing a crime within the territory to which he was accredited, and even to envisage his doing so in the performance of his official functions--though this is less easy. Well established international law makes provision for the diplomat. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 provides for immunity from civil and criminal process while the diplomat is in post and, thereafter, in respect of conduct which he committed in the performance of his official functions while in post. Customary international law provided a head of state with immunity from any form of process while visiting a foreign state. It is possible to envisage a visiting head of state committing a criminal offence in the course of performing his official functions while on a visit and when clothed with status immunity. What seems inherently unlikely is that a foreign head of state should commit a criminal offence in the performance of his official functions while on a visit and subsequently return after ceasing to be head of state. Certainly this cannot have happened with sufficient frequency for any custom to have developed in relation to it. Nor am I aware of any custom which would have protected from criminal process a visiting official of a foreign state who was not a member of a special mission had he had the temerity to commit a criminal offence in the pursuance of some official function. For these reasons I do not believe that custom can provide any foundation for a rule that a former head of state is entitled to immunity from criminal process in respect of crimes committed in the exercise of his official functions.

Judicial decisions

In the light of the considerations to which I have just referred, it is not surprising that Senator Pinochet and the Republic of Chile have been unable to point to any body of judicial precedent which supports the proposition that a former head of state or other government official can establish immunity from criminal process on the ground that the crime was committed in the course of performing official functions. The best that counsel for Chile has been able to do is to draw attention to the following obiter opinion of the Swiss Federal Tribunal in Marcos and Marcos v. Federal Department of Police (1989) 102 I.L.R. 198 at pp. 202-3.

     "The privilege of the immunity from criminal jurisdiction of heads of state . . . has not been fully codified in the Vienna Convention [on Diplomatic Relations]. . . . But it cannot be concluded that the texts of conventions drafted under the aegis of the United Nations grant a lesser protection to heads of foreign states than to the diplomatic representatives of the state which those heads of state lead or universally represent. . . . Articles 32 and 39 of the Vienna Convention must therefore apply by analogy to heads of state."

Writings of authors

We have been referred to the writings of a number of learned authors in support of the immunity asserted on behalf of Senator Pinochet. Oppenheim comments at para. 456:

     "All privileges mentioned must be granted to a head of state only so long as he holds that position. Therefore, after he has been deposed or has abdicated, he may be sued, at least in respect of obligations of a private character entered into while head of state. For his official acts as head of state he will, like any other agent of a state, enjoy continuing immunity."

This comment plainly relates to civil proceedings.

Satow's Guide to Diplomatic Practice 5th Edition deals in Chapter 2 with the position of a visiting head of state. The authors deal largely with immunity from civil proceedings but state (at p. 10) that under customary international law "he is entitled to immunity--probably without exception--from criminal and civil jurisdiction". After a further passage dealing with civil proceedings, the authors state:

     "A head of state who has been deposed or replaced or has abdicated or resigned is of course no longer entitled to privileges or immunities as a head of state. He will be entitled to continuing immunity in regard to acts which he performed while head of state, provided that the acts were performed in his official capacity; in this his position is no different from that of any agent of the state."

Sir Arthur Watts in his monologue on The Legal Position in International Law of Heads of State, Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers, Recueil des cours, volume 247 (1994--III) deals with the loss of immunity of a head of state who is deposed on a foreign visit. He then adds at p. 89:

     "A head of state's official acts, performed in his public capacity as head of state, are however subject to different considerations. Such acts are acts of the state rather than the head of state's personal acts, and he cannot be sued for them even after he has ceased to be head of state. The position is similar to that of acts performed by an ambassador in the exercise of his functions, for which immunity continues to subsist even after the ambassador's appointment has come to an end."

My Lords, I do not find these writings, unsupported as they are by any reference to precedent or practice, a compelling foundation for the immunity in respect of criminal proceedings that is asserted.

General principles of law recognised by all civilised nations

The claim for immunity raised in this case is asserted in relation to a novel type of extra-territorial criminal jurisdiction. The nature of that jurisdiction I shall consider shortly. If immunity from that jurisdiction is to be established it seems to me that this can only be on the basis of applying the established general principles of international law relied upon by Chile to which I have already referred, rather than any specific rule of law relating to immunity from criminal process.

These principles underlie some of the rules of immunity that are clearly established in relation to civil proceedings. It is time to take a closer look at these rules, and at the status immunity that is enjoyed by a head of state ratione personae.

Immunity from civil suit of the State itself.

It was originally an absolute rule that the court of one state would not entertain a civil suit brought against another state. All states are equal and this was said to explain why one state could not sit in judgment on another. This rule was not viable once states began to involve themselves in commerce on a large scale and state practice developed an alternative restrictive rule of state immunity under which immunity subsisted in respect of the public acts of the state but not for its commercial acts. A distinction was drawn between acts done jure imperii and acts done jure gestionis. This refinement of public international law was described by Lord Denning, M.R. in Trendtex Trading Corporation v. Central Bank of Nigeria [1977] 1 Q.B. 529. In that case the majority of the Court of Appeal held that the common law of England, of which international law forms part, had also changed to embrace the restrictive theory of state immunity from civil process. That change was about to be embodied in statute, the State Immunity Act 1978, which gave effect to the European Convention on State Immunity of 1972.

Part I of the Act starts by providing:

     "1. General immunity from jurisdiction

       (1) A state is immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United Kingdom except as provided in the following provisions of this Part of this Act."

Part I goes on to make provision for a number of exceptions from immunity, the most notable of which is, by Section 3, that in relation to a commercial transaction entered into by the state.

Part I does not apply to criminal proceedings--Section 16 (4).

The immunity of a head of state ratione personae.

An acting head of state enjoyed by reason of his status absolute immunity from all legal process. This had its origin in the times when the head of state truly personified the state. It mirrored the absolute immunity from civil process in respect of civil proceedings and reflected the fact that an action against a head of state in respect of his public acts was, in effect, an action against the state itself. There were, however, other reasons for the immunity. It would have been contrary to the dignity of a head of state that he should be subjected to judicial process and this would have been likely to interfere with the exercise of his duties as a head of state. Accordingly the immunity applied to both criminal and civil proceedings and, insofar as civil proceedings were concerned, to transactions entered into by the head of state in his private as well as his public capacity.

When the immunity of the state in respect of civil proceedings was restricted to exclude commercial transactions, the immunity of the head of state in respect of transactions entered into on behalf of the state in his public capacity was similarly restricted, although the remainder of his immunity remained--see Sections 14 (1) (a) and 20 (5) of the Act of 1978.

Immunity ratione materiae.

This is an immunity of the state which applies to preclude the courts of another state from asserting jurisdiction in relation to a suit brought against an official or other agent of the state, present or past, in relation to the conduct of the business of the state while in office. While a head of state is serving, his status ensures him immunity. Once he is out of office, he is in the same position as any other state official and any immunity will be based upon the nature of the subject matter of the litigation. We were referred to a number of examples of civil proceedings against a former head of state where the validity of a claim to immunity turned, in whole or in part, on whether the transaction in question was one in which the defendant had acted in a public or a private capacity: Ex King Farouk of Egypt v. Christian Dior, S.A.R.L. (1957) 24 I.L.R. 228; Soc. Jean Desses v. Prince Farouk (1963) 65 I.L.R. 37; Jiminez v. Aristeguieta 311 F. 2d. 547; U.S. v. Noriega (1997) 117 F. 3rd. 1206.