Sovereign immunity—United Kingdom—Q&A guide

The following Dispute Resolution practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Sovereign immunity—United Kingdom—Q&A guide
  • 1. What is the general approach to the concept of sovereign immunity in your state?
  • 2. What is the legal basis for the doctrine of sovereign immunity in your state?
  • 3. Is your state a party to any multilateral treaties on sovereign immunity? Has the state made any reservations or declarations regarding the treaties?
  • 4. Describe domestic law governing the scope of jurisdictional immunity.
  • 5. How can the state, or its various organs and instrumentalities, waive immunity or consent to the exercise of jurisdiction?
  • 6. In which types of transactions or proceedings do states not enjoy immunity from suit (even without the state’s consent or waiver)? How does the law of your country assess whether a transaction falls into one of these categories?
  • 7. If one of the exceptions to sovereign immunity set out above applies, is there any related principle that could prevent a court having jurisdiction over the state?
  • 8. To what extent do proceedings against a state enterprise or similar entity affect the immunity enjoyed by the state? Is there precedent for piercing the corporate veil to subject the state itself to those proceedings?
  • 9. What is the nexus the plaintiff needs to have standing to bring a claim against a state?
  • More...

Sovereign immunity—United Kingdom—Q&A guide

This Practice Note contains a jurisdiction-specific Q&A guide to sovereign immunity in United Kingdom published as part of the Lexology Getting the Deal Through series by Law Business Research (published: October 2021).

Authors: Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP—Odysseas Repousis; Stephen Jagusch QC

1. What is the general approach to the concept of sovereign immunity in your state?

The concept of state immunity that applies in the United Kingdom is that of restrictive immunity. The statute giving effect to the doctrine of restrictive immunity is the State Immunity Act 1978, which came into force on 22 November 1978. This means that the immunity of a foreign state is not absolute but restricted to acts of a governmental nature, acta jure imperii. Therefore, acts of a commercial nature, acta jure gestionis, do not enjoy immunity. As Lord Denning MR eloquently put it in Trendtex Trading v Central Bank of Nigeria [1977] QB 529:

[g]overnments everywhere engage in activities which although incidental in one way or another to the business of government are in themselves essentially commercial.

It is, therefore, only in respect of its sovereign activities that a state may reasonably expect to be immune from proceedings in a foreign court.

The doctrine of state immunity only applies to foreign states. It does not, therefore, apply to the United Kingdom. Instead, the common law doctrine of Crown immunity

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