Supreme Court, M.A.H., Nr. AR P.13.1856.N, 3 December 2013

In 2013, the Belgian police were able to arrest M.A.H., suspected to be involved in the hostage-taking of a Belgian merchant vessel off the Somali coast, after he was lured to Belgium under the pretence that he could be a part of a movie project about maritime piracy.
M.A.H. relied on diplomatic immunity, but the Belgian Supreme Court rejected this claim. In particular, the Court held that M.A.H.’s alleged diplomatic passport was a mere travel document delivered by the previous government, whereas the Somali documents qualifying him as an ‘anti-piracy officer” did not entail any diplomatic status either. What is more, his reasons for entering Belgium were purely private and had nothing to do with exercising any public function. The Belgian Foreign Ministry has also confirmed in writing that M.A.H. did not qualify for diplomatic immunity.

V. et al v the Holy See

Ghent First Instance Tribunal, V. et al v the Holy See, Nr. 11/2648/A, 1 October 2013

Some 39 plaintiffs who claim to have been victims of sexual abuse as minors by ministers of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, argue that in addition to the damages stemming from the abuse itself, they also suffered damages due to the church authorities’ year-long refusal or failure to acknowledge and address the problem. The Holy See objects that the Court has no jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims against it as it enjoys immunity from jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs argue that the Holy See can only enjoy state immunity in its capacity as the government of Vatican City State, but not when it is sued ‘on behalf of the Pope’ in a civil court as the government of the Roman Catholic Church. The Court, however, rejects this argument as it would undo the de facto recognition of the Holy See as foreign sovereign by the Belgian State. The Court, moreover, dismisses the argument by the plaintiffs that the alleged policy errors of the Holy See were ‘acta jure gestionis’ for which it cannot rely on immunity from jurisdiction. The Court also confirms that the invocation of such immunity from jurisdiction does not entail a violation of the plaintiffs’ right of access to justice under the ECHR.