As Assange gets citizenship to Ecuador and becomes an official diplomat of the country, I'm wondering if there is any precedent for the UK to arrest him in that capacity for alleged transgressions that took place prior to assuming the post?

  • 8
    He is not an "official diplomat" unless HMG accepts him as such, Jan 15, 2018 at 6:28
  • 2
    The actions after the killing of Yvonne Fletcher came close, but no one was actually arrested, and it wouldn’t have been for acts prior to assuming the post.
    – chirlu
    Jan 15, 2018 at 8:01
  • See also R v Pinochet
    – Calchas
    Jan 16, 2018 at 17:50

2 Answers 2


If the UK had accepted Ecuador's request to make Mr Assange an officially accredited diplomat, he would been immediately entitled to protection under the Vienna Convention, to which the UK is a ratified signatory. Specifically he would have enjoyed Article 29 which explicitly forbids the arrest of a diplomat.

The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity.

This is also considered a part of UK law, in relation to the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, specifically article 2.5;

Articles 35, 36 and 40 shall be construed as granting any privilege or immunity which they [The Vienna Convention] require to be granted.

Given his chequered past, it's likely that the Ecuadorians envisaged that the UK would accept their proposal (allowing him to leave their embassy unhindered), then immediately exercise their rights under Article 9 of the Vienna Convention to declare him persona non grata and ask him to leave the country.

The receiving State may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. In any such case, the sending State shall, as appropriate, either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission.

Instead, the UK exercised its rights (under the same article) and simply declared his appointment not acceptable.

As to whether the pre-planned arrest of an accredited diplomat has occurred on British soil, the answer is that such a thing hasn't occurred for several hundred years. The last case appears to have been in 1717 with the arrest of Karl (or Carl) Gyllenborg, the Swedish Ambassador. His papers and person were seized when it became clear that he was part of a conspiracy against the Crown and he was imprisoned for five months before he was permitted to leave the country.

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  • 2
    So does the Vienna convention state the receiving country has to accept the status? Jan 14, 2018 at 22:34
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    @EvanCarroll - No. Absolutely not. Article 9 says "A person may be declared non grata or not acceptable before arriving in the territory of the receiving State.". An appointment needs to be accepted.
    – Valorum
    Jan 14, 2018 at 23:08
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    @Kyslik - Yes. The would-be diplomat's credentials are presented to the Foreign Office who need to sign them and return them. At that point the person is a diplomat. No signature = no appointment = no immunity.
    – Valorum
    Jan 14, 2018 at 23:56
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    @SJuan76 - This is addressed in the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964; "Every person entitled to privileges and immunities shall enjoy them from the moment he enters the territory of the receiving State on proceeding to take up his post or, if already in its territory, from the moment when his appointment is notified to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs or such other ministry as may be agreed." - So he can be appointed a diplomat while still in residence in the UK (assuming the Foreign Office accepts his credentials. Which they didn't).
    – Valorum
    Jan 15, 2018 at 1:24
  • 13
    @Sentinel: The UK government perhaps takes the view that Assange has not genuinely switched careers and does not genuinely aspire to enter diplomatic service in the UK. Assange's main aims in life do not seem to be facilitating good relations between Ecuador and the UK. Jan 15, 2018 at 15:32

According to the Crown Prosecution Service's guidance on diplomatic immunity (emphasis mine):

Diplomatic immunity in the UK is conferred on all entitled members of a foreign mission (and entitled family members forming part of their household, provided they are not nationals of the UK) who have been notified to, and accepted by, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as performing a diplomatic function.

In other words, once the diplomatic status of an individual is accepted by the FCO, the diplomat can only be arrested with the permission of the sending state. Normally, this recognition of diplomatic status happens almost immediately when a diplomat enters the country using their diplomatic passport.

As has been reported by various media (such as the London Evening Standard), the FCO has refused Ecuador's request to recognise Mr. Assange's status as a diplomat, primarily because of the charges already outstanding against him. Because the FCO does not see him as an official diplomat, then he is subject to arrest and prosecution as any other foreign citizen.

  • 6
    "Normally, this recognition of diplomatic status happens almost immediately when a diplomat enters the country using their diplomatic passport." - Doesn't it happen before the diplomat enters the country? Jan 15, 2018 at 9:37
  • 2
    No, because it can't officially happen until they enter the country. But it's generally agreed upon well beforehand, specifically to avoid situations like this. Jan 15, 2018 at 15:42
  • @Shadur it absolutely can happen before they enter the country. See article 4: "The sending State must make certain that the agrément of the receiving State has been given for the person it proposes to accredit as head of the mission to that State." The receiving state must accept the diplomat before the diplomat can be appointed. The diplomat enjoys immunity from the moment of arrival in the receiving state, before the presentation of credentials (article 39).
    – phoog
    Oct 9, 2023 at 21:29
  • @MartinBonnersupportsMonica you are correct. The receiving state must indicate that it intends to accept the diplomat before the diplomat is accredited, and diplomatic immunity begins immediately when the diplomat arrives, not "almost immediately."
    – phoog
    Oct 9, 2023 at 21:33

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