I'm asking this because a Wikipedia's page states that:

...diplomatic immunity leads to some unfortunate results; protected diplomats have violated laws of the host country and that country has been essentially limited to informing the diplomat's nation that the diplomat is no longer welcome...

So, for example, if a U.S. consul kills someone in England (s)he will not be arrested and judged in the host country like everybody else?

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    Consuls do not have diplomatic immunity; consular immunity is more limited.
    – cpast
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 19:04

6 Answers 6


In theory, yes

In theory, yes, a diplomat can kill someone, refuse to be arrested and return to their host country. In practice, that does not prevent them from being judged. There are multiple cases where diplomats have caused deaths, e.g. in drunk driving. The usual result is that they actually are released due to diplomatic immunity, but afterwards either the country revokes their immunity and they're given to the host country for normal proceedings, or they are judged for the same event back home.

The intent is rather obvious—it is easy for a government to accuse someone of a crime, and we want diplomats (and opposition politicians—parliamentary immunity in many countries works in a similar way) to be protected from detention because of such accusations. It doesn't mean that diplomats are allowed to commit crime—it means that their home country is given a "veto vote" if they wish to do so.

This does give an opportunity to use officials with diplomatic immunity for intentionally breaking the law—espionage and assassinations. The expected response from the host country is not against the person, but against the country which is responsible for the actions of their diplomats. There likely are old historical precedents of military action caused by personal actions of emissaries, but nowadays it would likely result in expelling all diplomats of that country. As usually diplomatic relations and reputation are far more valuable than the career of some official, one could expect that if a diplomat intentionally kills someone without actual orders from their government, then they'd be given up to be punished.

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    There are definitely a couple old exceptions relating to diplomats inciting rebellion in the host country, but these days that would be more likely to result in sanctions and/or military action. Espionage less so, since that is at this point a fairly expected use of diplomatic immunity (if you're caught you're expelled, but it's expected that some diplomats are really spies who have an immunity-granting job as a cover for their spying).
    – cpast
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 19:50
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    Most of the answer is correct but it does not follow that a consul is allowed to kill someone, in theory or in practice.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 16:07
  • I think the question is a legal one. Would the local courts convict if the case got to court?
    – Simd
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 20:13
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    @Lembik If it's covered by consular immunity (or if you have diplomatic immunity), it won't even get to court -- the police cannot detain you, and you would likely end up out of the country one way or another before the court rules. If it does get to court, my understanding is that immunity requires them to drop the charges (so if you return not under diplomatic status, they still can't charge you with a crime committed under diplomatic status unless your country waives immunity for that crime).
    – cpast
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 2:45
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    @FailedScientist It seems there was some disagreement on whether on not he was a bonafide diplomat: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… - Were going to need an example case of someone who's diplomatic status is 100% agreed upon. Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 15:50

Yes, diplomatic immunity can allow even individuals connected to diplomatic officials to kill someone and not face the consequences. While everything in the linked article is couched in tentative terms, there seems no doubt that the facts of the case are as alleged.

Harry Dunn Crash

Anne Sacoolas is suspected of being involved in a car crash that killed British motorcyclist Harry Dunn, who died in Northamptonshire on 27 August.

Mrs Sacoolas later left the UK to return home to the US, after telling local police she had no such plans.

The note was photographed as Mr Trump addressed reporters at the White House.

It reads: "(If raised) Note, as Secretary Pompeo told Foreign Secretary Raab, that the spouse of the US government employee will not return to the United Kingdom."

The spouse of a US diplomat has caused the death of a young man through hitting him in a car, whilst driving on the wrong side of the road. She latter fled the country after promising not to do so.

Diplomatic immunity can be waived at the request of the Foreign office. However it seems in this case the US has no intention of waiving that protection and Mrs Sacoolas will not be returning to the UK to engage with the British justice system.

Downing Street confirmed Mr Johnson had urged the US president to reconsider the decision to grant immunity to Mrs Sacoolas.

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    This is the start of a really good answer. Actually demonstrating the concepts in the question. Even more so because it is the spouse of the diplomat, not the actual diplomat that is involved. But I think this answer needs some quotes, context and links to help it on its way. For now, it's on CNN. nbcnews.com/news/world/…
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 10:34
  • It was actually the wife of a diplomat, and the person killed was a young man, not a boy.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 16:15
  • Perhaps she should be prosecuted by the US authorities for breaking British law. If I were her under those circumstances I would probably ask to be allowed to face the music in the UK. Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 12:00
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    An average US citizen in the same situation but without any immunity would never be prosecuted in the USA. That citizen would either be extradited to the UK, or they would not be extradited, but never prosecuted in the USA.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 22:13
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    @gnasher729 According to the UK government, the issue of diplomatic immunity is moot, as having returned to the USA, the protection no longer applies. Whether extradition will be sought or granted is another matter.
    – richardb
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 17:17

Peteris covered most of the answer, but there are a couple other bits. First, diplomatic immunity doesn't take precedence over the host country's right and obligation to protect its citizens and to ensure public safety. If a diplomat is actively trying to kill someone, diplomatic immunity doesn't stop that person or the police from intervening with appropriate force, up to and including deadly force if needed. Diplomatic immunity only applies once the immediate issue is dealt with.

Second, consuls do not have diplomatic immunity. They only have consular immunity, which is limited to official acts. If someone tried to argue that that included murder, they would have to explain how murder is part of the official duties of a consular officer. In Lethal Weapon 2, consular immunity would not protect the South Africans from prosecution in the US, because drug-running and murdering witnesses are not part of the job of a consul.

Third, there are actually a couple cases illustrating point 1. In the 1980s, during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London, someone inside the embassy shot and killed a police officer. Once the person inside stopped shooting the most the police could do was stand guard outside until the UK kicked out the embassy; the shooter was never prosecuted because Libya didn't want to do so. In contrast, in Paris in the 1970s, someone took hostages inside the Iraqi embassy. When the police were escorting them to a police car, someone inside shot at the criminal and the police; the police returned fire, and were considered justified in doing so.

  • I think in Libya case there is something more. Because if someone kill a person and run to his embassy cops can't go catch him. Like what Robert Langdon tried to do in The Da Vinci Code. Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 23:11
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    @VitorCanova In the Libya case, they didn't enter the embassy. However, if you don't have diplomatic immunity and run to an embassy, the embassy can still invite them in to arrest you. Otherwise, you better like that embassy, because you can never leave without being immediately arrested (and that includes if the embassy/consulate is kicked out of the country). And absent extreme circumstances, running to the US embassy or consulate in France to escape from a murder charge will get you sent back to the cops in short order.
    – cpast
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 23:56
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    “Diplomatic immunity only applies once the immediate issue is dealt with” says who? I fully expect police to act anyway but there is no general principle allowing them to do so. For example, the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations is pointedly silent about this. International law is not neatly organized like that.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 16:41
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    Not sure you should be referencing fiction as evidence. Respect for your taste in movies, but it's not evidence. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 15:11
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    @Relaxed Among other entities, the US State Department. To quote: "In circumstances where public safety is in imminent danger or it is apparent that a grave crime may otherwise be committed, police authorities may intervene to the extent necessary to halt such activity."
    – cpast
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 0:33

As a Former UK military government official myself in an administrative technical capacity.

Article 41 of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations (quoted below) clearly states: ‘do in Rome as the Romans do.’ (Respect the laws of the host state) - which applies to ALL persons under the convention and the spirit of... ‘don’t personally benefit from such protections afforded’ (Article 42). That is the general ‘spirit’ of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Article 41

  1. Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.

  2. All official business with the receiving State entrusted to the mission by the sending State shall be conducted with or through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the receiving State or such other ministry as may be agreed.

  3. The premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State

The US specifically categorizes Diplomatic staff into 3 categories: diplomatic agents, technical and admin staff, and service members with applicable differences in their level of immunity. It also deals with family members separately (since technically you could class a family member as civilian)

Case law determination in the US: “On 27 October 1998, in Vladivostok, Russia, Douglas Kent, the American Consul General to Russia, was involved in a car accident that left a young man, Alexander Kashin, disabled. Kent was not prosecuted in a U.S. court. Under the Vienna Convention, diplomatic immunity does not apply to civil actions relating to vehicular accidents, but in 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that, since he was using his vehicle for consular purposes, Kent could not be sued civilly.

Additional citations to the consular judgement appears to be archived but can be found here: https://web.archive.org/web/20080505012445/http://vn.vladnews.ru/issue531/Crime_watch/Immunity_shelters_former_US_Consul_from_Russian_invalid https://web.archive.org/web/20080608195621/http://media.www.dailylobo.com/media/storage/paper344/news/2002/09/16/News/Russia.Student.In.Diplomatic.Controversy-274101.shtml

Whilst the provisions of the convention as mentioned at the beginning of the CPS implementation does indeed state what has been commented with here: Would diplomatic immunity allow a Consul to kill someone and get away with it?

It doesn’t as such cover publicly, and for good reason, a realistic possibility that international military establishments have special provisions/agreements which are also referenced and provisioned for, in the convention and agreed between states... I would not be at liberty to discuss the particulars of any such agreement(s), if they were to exist, for obvious reasons. There is a due expectation/requirement of respect on both parties of the convention, both receiving and sending states.

It should be appropriately noted that Consular Diplomatic Immunities are covered under a different convention, yet it provides a general idea of ‘spirit’ and use case rulings of such protections.

Consider this: It would be somewhat a serious embarrassment to international relations, if a family member (usually classed as civilian?) of any ‘diplomat’ or ‘service member’ covered by the spirit of convention to not respect the host state’s laws and to claim vehicular accidents are somehow covered?

In a further ‘use’ update to recent news regarding Harry Dunn: ‪Article 9 and Article 10 (b) of the convention apply. Also Article 21 and importantly Article 22, 27, 36(a) and (b) ... Article 37 to 44 says about ‘use’ quite specifically though. Though I doubt Article 43 was invoked in this case.‬ Articles 24, 25 and 26 are likely to be relevant.

CPS guidance states regarding termination but not mentioning recall: “Upon the termination of their functions with their mission, qualifying officers and their qualifying dependents retain their privileges and immunities in the UK for 31 days, unless otherwise advised by HMG”

A letter to notify that diplomatic immunity no longer applies, and indicating waiver requests are now irrelevant... does not as such, unless explicitly stated: waiver the immunities or privileges during the time in the UK, it is more a letter explaining jurisdiction changed due to being in a different country. (Article 32 covers waivers)

With due respect to ‘Visiting Forces’ in the UK, applicable to Ministry of Defence establishments, published an August 2016 document referred to as DSA01.1 Found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/548060/DSA01_Defence_Policy_for_Health_Safety_and_Environmental_Protection-20160804.pdf It states: “5. Visiting Forces Under customary international law, Visiting Forces are not bound by domestic legislation: This is described in the Visiting Forces Act 1952. Visiting NATO Forces are subject to the Articles of the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) 1951; of specific relevance to health, safety and environmental protection are Articles II, VII and IX. There is no similar agreement for non-NATO forces who visit, although certain aspects may be addressed in a Memorandum of Understanding; in these circumstances, normal protocol is applied bearing in mind that such Visiting Forces are covered by state immunity. 6. Interface arrangements for safety management between MOD, United States Visiting Forces and the HSE are set out in a Memorandum of Agreement, which is held on the Health and Safety website on the Defence Intranet. Enforcement action is limited to the issue of letters equivalent to Crown Notices with the recipient being an MOD employee. Similarly, there are interface arrangements for environment management between the Department, United States Visiting Forces and the EA.”

Now, as for reciprocal diplomatic immunity in the US specifically covered here: https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title22/chapter6&edition=prelim covered in section 254b of USC 22 Chapter 6 which references: (Pub. L. 95–393, §3(b), Sept. 30, 1978, 92 Stat. 808; Pub. L. 97–241, title II, §203(b)(2), Aug. 24, 1982, 96 Stat. 291.) It states: “With respect to a nonparty to the Vienna Convention, the mission, the members of the mission, their families, and diplomatic couriers shall enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in the Vienna Convention.”

Since the complaint derives from an incident in UK territory, the US could argue that it didn’t happen on their territory. (Jurisdiction)

The only feasible recourse, in my view, would be referenced in Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1964/81 Which references applications of the convention i.e. “Articles 35, 36 and 40 shall be construed as granting any privilege or immunity which they require to be granted.“ AND: “The references in Articles 37 and 38 to the extent to which any privileges and immunities are admitted by the receiving State and to additional privileges and immunities that may be granted by the receiving State shall be construed as referring respectively to the extent to which any privileges and immunities may be specified by Her Majesty by Order in Council and to any additional privileges and immunities that may be so specified.”

This recourse in particular: “Her Majesty may by an Order in Council withdraw such of the privileges and immunities so conferred from the mission of that State or from such persons connected with it as appears to Her Majesty to be proper.” However the evidence section applies: “ If in any proceedings any question arises whether or not any person is entitled to any privilege or immunity under this Act a certificate issued by or under the authority of the Secretary of State stating any fact relating to that question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact.“

In conclusion: It is more a case of extent, application and use of such privilege or immunity for purposes that MAY or MAY NOT be connected to the functions AND performance AND transport AND even property (300-400 yards?) of the mission.

  • I've added the article from the convention with a link in a plain text quote. As for the other references to case law, please edit them to have links to the relevant cases so it's easier to read up on them.
    – JJJ
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 13:34
  • If someone could edit to provide more anchored links, I would be grateful, also feel free to reorganise the answer to make it less back forth up down left right here there? Thanks! Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 15:17
  • Note that this question is more about the general case, not about the incident involving a family member of a US person with immunity in the UK. It's also not clear to me how you actually answer the question. Are you saying that while the immunity applies such an incident is covered or are you arguing that by withdrawing immunity (on the side of the receiving state) an incident may not be covered even if it occurred while the perpetrator had immunity?
    – JJJ
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 16:11
  • As stated it’s how it applies specifically in the use case, whilst I’m not directly answering the future of the case, the factors of foreign persons (of both forces (diplomatic included) and civilian class) But: the extents afforded in this particular case are dependent on who’s state immunity is referenced... if it was US then Consular Kent would apply, however if it is UK, by authority of Secretary of State, then my recourse would theoretically apply ‘given admission’. In any legal setting it is usually established identity, place, circumstance (knowledge and training/expertise level)... Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 18:29
  • In reference to your last question, that would be down to ‘use’ covered in the convention Articles 37-44.. however Articles 24,25 and 26 means the premises of the mission and particulars to it are inviolable (including for national security reasons). It is also important to determine a foreign national, the territory where it took place and the behaviours of all concerned. Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 18:31

The way original question is posed doesn't clearly differentiate between premeditated murder and involuntary manslaughter. If negligent homicide is included then the following example applies. In 2013 an American diplomat did get away with negligent driving that killed one person an injured eight more without suffering legal consequence.


  • Treaties about diplomatic or consular immunity do not make a distinction either. Immunity would also fully apply to premeditated murder, but it's not allowed per se. The extent to which you are protected from negative consequences depends on the way the country that sent you handles the case.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 8:18
  • And at a more trivial, but nonetheless irritating level to many Londoners, US embassy cars used to ignore parking fines, and ran up a massive bill which the embassy continually failed to settle, citing diplomatic immunity. I'm not sure whether or not they ever did.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 8:50

Diplomatic immunity does not allow or preclude diplomats from doing anything. Mostly, it's a set of procedural rules formalized in some treaties that provide that consuls, ambassadors and some other diplomats cannot be arrested, prosecuted, etc. (incidentally, the protections afforded to a consul are defined in a separate treaty and less extensive than those enjoyed by an ambassador for example). But states never agreed to suspend their laws, they fully apply to consuls and other diplomats alike, with a few exceptions (in particular taxation laws).

Of course, even if something isn't allowed, consuls can certainly, like everybody else, break the law and do it anyway. The main difference is what happens afterwards. Instead of using regular law enforcement measures, states have to resort to diplomatic means: demanding that a diplomat be disciplined or diplomatic immunity waived, declaring a diplomat persona non grata, summoning its home country's ambassador, breaking off diplomatic relationship, etc.

Because diplomats are expected to serve their country, these political consequences also provide a strong deterrent. A consul who would commit a serious crime might not face immediate arrest but he or she might find himself out of a job and prosecuted in his home country. Even if they do get away with a crime, as has happened to a handful of US diplomats (and many others from other countries as well), they run a very high risk of ruining their career.

Of course, diplomatic immunities can also be abused by people with sufficient political connections in their country of origin or for official purposes like espionage. But diplomats are not generally allowed to kill people in the course of their duties. And even things they do easily get away with like poor driving are not allowed per se.

In summary whether one can kill someone else, is allowed to do it or would face negative consequences after doing it are three entirely distinct questions. Consuls are to some extent protected from some of the negative consequences a private person might expect but they are not allowed to commit murder and generally cannot expect to do it without suffering very negative consequences.

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