Writ can be served on Kuwait, court rules: Foreign states lose legal immunity

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The Independent Online
THE COURT of Appeal has ruled that writs against the government of Kuwait for allegedly assisting in the torture of a British citizen may be served through courts in the United Kingdom.

Yesterday's unprecedented decision, which overturns previous rulings that foreign governments have legal immunity in the UK, is likely to prompt a flood of cases in which human rights abuses are alleged against foreign states.

It is also likely to strain relations between Britain and its former Gulf war ally, which remains an important regional trading partner. The Foreign Office is obliged to deliver the writ to the Kuwaiti Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Sulaiman al-Adsani, who has been in hiding following death threats, alleges that he was tortured by members of the Kuwaiti royal family, who claimed that he had distributed pornographic videos. The films showed a member of the royal family in a compromising sexual encounter.

Mr Adsani, who was at the Court of Appeal yesterday wearing bandages on badly- scarred hands, claims he was beaten, nearly drowned in a swimming pool already full of corpses, and finally set on fire in a room in a palace.

Lord Justice Evans, sitting with Lord Justice Butler-Sloss and Lord Justice Rose, said: 'There is a good arguable case that no state or sovereign immunity should be accorded in respect of an act which could be described as torture.' He added that it was 'abundantly plain that, as far as the evidence goes, the Kuwaiti government was responsible for, or at least compliant'.

In a lower-court ruling last year, Mr Adsani, 33, a former Kuwaiti air force pilot, who carried dual nationality, was given leave to sue the individuals he alleges tortured him. The court was not prepared to give leave for him to serve proceedings on the government, arguing that he did not have sufficient authority to set such a precedent.

One of the individuals, Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah al-Saud al-Sabah, is a brother-in-law of the Kuwaiti Emir and a government minister. The Foreign Office duly served writs against him through the Kuwaiti Ministry of Affairs. The writs, however, have been returned unserved.

Geoffrey Bindman, Mr Adsani's solicitor, said that the writs will be re-served and that the new writ against the government will be ready shortly. The Kuwaiti authorities will then have to come to the London court to answer the compensation claim and, if they wish, to argue against the lifting of state immunity.

Mr Bindman said that the decision was astounding. 'We put through a bold argument that no state can claim immunity from allegations of torture. The appeal court judges accepted that. It is part of a trend to emphasise the fundamental importance of human rights in international law: those who torture cannot escape from their crimes.'

Mr Adsani has sought redress through Britain because he says his life would be in danger in Kuwait. At an earlier hearing, the High Court accepted that the Kuwaiti ambassador in London had warned a relative that if Mr Adsani did not stop pursuing his case he could be killed.

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