Ms Josephine Wong, from the Philippines alleges that she worked in the residence of a current Saudi diplomat in conditions of modern slavery. The Supreme Court has decided that, if the facts alleged are proved, Mr Khalid Basfar, first secretary at the Saudi embassy, does not have diplomatic immunity in relation to the claim. Mr Basfar is accused of paying her 63 pence an hour, feeding her leftover scraps of food from his family, and forcing Ms Wong to wear a buzzer around her neck and be “on call” 24 hours a day.
Source: The Independent
The full judgement can be read here:
Diplomat in UK to face court action for ‘subjecting domestic worker to modern slavery’ in world first
Supreme Court rules diplomats who profit by exploiting their workers in conditions of modern slavery can no longer rely on diplomatic immunity
Social Affairs Correspondent
A diplomat in the UK is to face court action for allegedly subjecting a domestic worker to modern slavery in a landmark court ruling.
The Supreme Court ruled that diplomats who profit by exploiting their workers in conditions of modern slavery can no longer rely on diplomatic immunity to block workers from claiming compensation.
Josephine Wong, the appellant, was brought to the UK by a Saudi diplomat, Khalid Basfar, as a domestic servant in 2016.
The Filipino national alleges that she was forced to work for over 16 hours a day without time off, that she was prevented from leaving the residence and that the promised wages were withheld from her.
She says she was made to work from 7am to around 11.30pm each day, with no days off or rest breaks, and was required to wear a door-bell at all times so that she was at the family’s beck and call 24 hours a day.
Ms Wong managed to escape in 2018 and subsequently made a claim against Mr Basfar to the employment tribunal. Mr Basfar argued that her claim should be struck out on the basis of his diplomatic protection.
Diplomats are normally protected from both criminal charges and civil cases in the countries where they are posted, but three out of five of the justices in the UK Supreme Court ruled in this case on Wednesday that immunity does not apply in civil cases involving alleged modern slavery.
Accepting that normal employment of a domestic worker would not be an exercise of a commercial activity, the majority did not “accept that exploiting a domestic worker by compelling her to work in circumstances of modern slavery is comparable to an ordinary employment relationship”.
The ruling makes the UK the first country in the world to take this stance against such actions by diplomats.
The case will now go to the employment tribunal for a decision on the facts and any compensation that is owed to Ms Wong.
Nusrat Uddin, of Wilsons Solicitors LLP, who represented Ms Wong, said: “We are extremely pleased with the judgement which has far reaching implications for victims of modern slavery and domestic servitude who are ill-treated by diplomats.
“Diplomats are no longer protected from exploiting their workers in the gruelling conditions under which some expect them to work. We hope that this case acts as a deterrent against such abuse going forward and exposes the hidden realities in some diplomatic households.”
Alison Harvey, chair of the board of trustees of Kalayaan, a charity that provided evidence and representations to the court in the case, said the case “establishes that exploitation of domestic workers for profit falls within the commercial exception to diplomatic immunity” and that it would “resonate internationally”.
Zubier Yazdani, partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn, which represented Kalayaan in the case, said “For far too long diplomats have hidden behind the shield of immunity to conceal their abuses of their domestic workers. Today’s decision means that immunity no longer means impunity.”