High Court Rules on State Immunity and Enforcement of ICSID Arbitration Award in Border Timbers v Zimbabwe Case

Citation: [2024] EWHC 58 (Comm)
Judgment on


In the High Court of Justice case, Border Timbers Limited & Anor v Republic of Zimbabwe, presided over by Mrs. Justice Dias DBE, a set of complex legal issues were addressed relating to state immunity and the enforcement of an arbitration award under the ICSID Convention. Key legal topics revolved around state immunity under the 1978 State Immunity Act (SIA), the scope, and applicability of the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1966, and the interpretation of various provisions within the ICSID Convention.

Key Facts

The case stemmed from an arbitration award made under the ICSID Convention against Zimbabwe, totalling approximately US$125 million. Zimbabwe’s applications to annul the award were dismissed leading to the claimants seeking registration of the award in England. Zimbabwe challenged the registration on the grounds of state immunity under the SIA, and debate ensued on whether the immunity had been waived through the Convention, and whether Zimbabwe had agreed in writing to arbitrate as per the act’s provisions. Issues also arose regarding the proper interpretation of the relevant ICSID Convention articles and the application of these to the legislative framework in England.

The court’s analysis focused on multiple legal principles, including:

  • State Immunity: The general rule under the SIA is that a state has immunity from the jurisdiction of UK courts unless clear exceptions apply, as per sections 2 and 9. The court contemplated whether agreements within the ICSID Convention amounted to waiver of immunity and, correspondingly, submission to jurisdiction.

  • Section 2 (SIA) and Submission to Jurisdiction: The analysis required interpretation of whether specific provisions of the ICSID Convention signified an express submission to the jurisdiction of UK courts, necessary to lift the state immunity under section 2.

  • Section 9 (SIA) and Written Agreement to Arbitrate: Another exception to immunity considered was whether a State, by agreeing to ICSID arbitration, waives immunity concerning proceedings in the UK courts under section 9.

  • Recognition and Enforcement under ICSID: The discussion hinged on whether access to recognition and enforcement under the ICSID framework implied a waiver of immunity and execution of the award according to domestic laws, contemplating the meanings of “recognition,” “enforcement,” and “execution” within the Convention’s context.

  • Full and Frank Disclosure: When applying to the court without notice, an applicant has a duty to disclose any points that might influence the judge’s decision. There was an allegation of a failure to disclose potential arguments on state immunity by the claimants.


The court’s findings were multifaceted:

  1. State Immunity Act 1978: Zimbabwe did not waive its immunity under sections 2 and 9 of the SIA since the ICSID Convention provisions did not constitute a clear and unequivocal submission to the UK jurisdiction.

  2. ICSID Convention and State Immunity: Article 54 of the ICSID Convention entails a waiver by contracting states from immunity in relation to the recognition and enforceability of awards but does not waive immunity in relation to the execution of awards against state assets.

  3. Full and Frank Disclosure: Though there was a recognition of the claimants’ failure to disclose potential state immunity arguments adequately, it did not warrant the setting aside of the registration order given the absence of substantive prejudice to Zimbabwe.


The case is illustrative of the complex interaction between international treaty obligations and domestic statutory provisions concerning state immunity. The ruling clarifies that while states party to the ICSID Convention cannot resist the recognition and enforcement of awards as if it were a final judgment of domestic courts, they retain immunity when it comes to the execution of such awards, unless express submission to jurisdiction under UK law is established. The court’s decision exemplifies a rigorous application of statutory interpretation principles and a careful balancing of international obligations with domestic statutory immunity safeguards.