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Looking at this list, it seems like most sovereign immunity laws exist in countries with monarchies, which makes sense both historically (an artifact of the principle of rex non potest peccare); and pragmatically, as usually in these countries the monarchs have little actual power, or else the people don't have the power to compel them to cede this privilege.

What I don't understand is that many republics grant this power in their constitution to an elected head of state. Examples from that list are Italy, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. Similarly the President of France enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office.

What is the reason to make such a law? Wouldn't it invite corruption and lack of accountability? Are there any advantages of it to the state?

  • Got a couple of answers on a Reddit crosspost, for those interested. – Josh Friedlander Jun 2 at 10:39
  • Perhaps it's appropriate to look at this together with the very common practice to grant immunity from prosecution to the elected parliament representatives. – Peteris Jun 7 at 11:23
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The logic is two-fold. Firstly many republics grant to their President the right to "pardon". The sovereign immunity extends this to the power of the President to pardon themselves.

Secondly the President is office sui generis. The president could become the target of vexatious litigation which would distract from fulfilling their role. This argument could apply to many other positions, but other positions can appeal to the president for relief.

It may be the case that there are times that the Exective needs "for the good of the country" to do things that would be illegal if they were done by any other person. Sovereign immunity allows these to be done by the President. It is normally expected that these would be exceptional, and perhaps emergency actions.

Finally many systems have a process for considering the President's behaviour through impeachment. If impeachment is the proper procedure for considering a president's criminality then not the law courts.

There are, naturally many arguments against presidential immunity: it allows corruption and removes judicial oversight. It changes the effect of "all equal under the law". I've only presented some reasons why this is a common feature of many political systems.

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