Court of Appeal Clarifies Rules on Service of Legal Documents Abroad and State Immunity for Heads of State in Privinvest Shipbuilding Case

Citation: [2024] EWCA Civ 184
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Privinvest Shipbuilding SAL (Holding) & Ors v Filipe Jacinto Nyusi before the Court of Appeal, the court deliberated on two principal issues: the validity of service of legal documents outside of the jurisdiction and the assertion of state immunity by the sitting head of state of Mozambique. The judgment rendered in this case elucidates the application of English procedural rules on service of process in foreign jurisdictions and the interpretation of state immunity under the UK State Immunity Act 1978, in conjunction with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as incorporated into UK law by the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964.

Key Facts

The appellants sought to serve a Part 20 Claim against the respondent, the President of Mozambique, alleging fraud and bribery related to sovereign guarantees entered by the Republic of Mozambique. The claim form was initially served by leaving the documents with security personnel at the Presidential Palace and Office of the President in Mozambique in October 2021. This method was contested by the respondent, and the court had to determine whether it constituted effective service. Further, the respondent claimed immunity from jurisdiction pursuant to section 20 of the State Immunity Act 1978.

The court analyzed the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) and Practice Directions governing service of documents on parties outside the UK. In particular, the focus was on the interpretation of CPR 6.40 and 6.42, as well as Practice Direction 6B. The court had to determine whether the phrase “service direct” permitted the appellants to serve the claim form by the method they used or whether PD6B required service through Mozambique’s judicial authorities.

The legal principles of state immunity were scrutinized under the State Immunity Act and the Diplomatic Privileges Act, as applied by section 20 of the State Immunity Act. The court considered whether a “necessary modification” should be made to Article 31(1)(c) of the Vienna Convention for it to apply to heads of state, specifically the potential removal of the phrase “in the receiving state” to allow for exceptions to immunity for commercial activities conducted worldwide.

Outcomes

The court concluded that the only permissible method of serving legal documents in Mozambique was via the courts under para 5.1 of PD6B, and anything contrary to this requirement would render service invalid. Consequently, the court found that the appellants’ service attempt in October 2021 was not effective.

On the issue of state immunity, the court held that the respondent, as a sitting head of state, was entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of the English Courts. The court preferred the reasoning in a previous case, Apex Global Management Ltd v Fi Call Ltd, which endorsed the view that Parliament did not intend to expose a visiting head of state to litigation about private commercial activities conducted anywhere in the world.

Conclusion

The Court of Appeal’s nuanced analysis in Privinvest Shipbuilding SAL (Holding) & Ors v Filipe Jacinto Nyusi articulates critical interpretations of procedural rules on service outside jurisdiction and the ambit of state immunity for a sitting head of state. The ruling reaffirms the precision with which service of process must be carried out in foreign jurisdictions according to CPR and Practice Directions. The decision also underscores the enduring influence of established international law principles on state immunity, resisting an expansive reading that might dilute the immunity protection for heads of state under UK law. This case serves as an essential reference for navigating the complexities of serving legal documents abroad and the implications of state immunity for individuals occupying high-ranking political positions.

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