X v Department of Justice of Geneva

Date15 juin 1977
CourtAdministrative Tribunal of Geneva (Switzerland)
Switzerland, Administrative Tribunal of the Canton of Geneva
Department of Justice and Police of the Canton of Geneva

International organizations Immunity Officials World Health Organization Senior official Jurisdictional immunity Traffic offence Withdrawal of driving licence by administrative decision Whether violating diplomatic privileges Scope of immunity Waiver Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, Articles 31 and 32 Switzerland-World Health Organization Agreement, 1946 Manner in which plea of immunity to be raised

Diplomatic relations Immunity Scope Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961 The law of Switzerland

Summary: The facts:X, a senior official of the World Health Organization, who held an identity card issued by the Swiss Federal Government, caused a road accident in Geneva. The local authorities withdrew his driving licence for three months and he appealed on the ground that their decision violated his diplomatic immunity.

Held:The appeal was allowed and the decision quashed.

(1) The personal inviolability of diplomatic agents was a privilege which, in the case of international officials, was granted in the interests of the performance of their functions and not for their personal benefit, unless considerations of public policy existed to the contrary.

(2) Diplomatic privileges and immunities could be limited for reasons of public safety in the receiving State, which included traffic safety. The driving licence of a diplomat could therefore be withdrawn where there were circumstances which would constitute an obstacle to the issue of a licence such as inability to drive safely due to illness, addiction to drink, or repeated traffic violations. On the other hand, the local authorities were not entitled to withdraw a driving licence merely on the basis of an isolated infringement of traffic regulations, however serious the resultant danger for road safety. Such action would violate the immunity enjoyed by diplomatic agents under Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, whose provisions were an integral part of Swiss law.

(3) There were no fixed rules of diplomatic law concerning the means by which jurisdictional immunity should be pleaded before a court. The diplomat affected could appear and ask for the annulment of the proceedings or, through the services of his Mission, could lodge an application to this end with the receiving State. The latter course was the norm under the Vienna Convention since waiver required the consent of the authorities of the sending State. A plea of lack of jurisdiction could be raised by a court of its own motion if necessary and the person entitled to immunity was not required to comply with a particular time limit. Where, as here, the authorities, on the basis of the information at their disposal, might have considered that the party concerned was not covered by immunity, the annulment of the decision rather than a pronouncement of nullity was the appropriate remedy.

The following is a statement of the facts as reported in Annuaire suisse de droit international 1978, p. 145:

X, a senior official of the World Health Organization (WHO), who held an identity card issued by the Federal Political Department, caused a road accident in Geneva, whilst leaving a stop junction. The Department of Justice and Police of the Canton of Geneva withdrew his driving licence for a period of three months by a decision of 24 August 1976. X appealed against this decision to the Administrative Tribunal of Geneva, invoking his previous good behaviour, professional requirements and diplomatic immunity

The following is the text of the relevant part of the grounds of the...

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