Foreign diplomats in New Zealand and New Zealand diplomatic representatives working in New Zealand’s posts overseas are both protected by the rules of diplomatic immunity. Diplomatic immunity is a long-standing principle of international law which provides that diplomats and certain other foreign government officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of local courts and other authorities. The privileges and immunities granted to diplomats are not meant to benefit individuals personally, but to ensure that diplomatic personnel are able to perform their duties with freedom, independence and security without interference from the host government.
The rules on diplomatic privileges and immunities are set out in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. A more limited set of privileges and immunities are set out for consular personnel in the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Nearly all States are party to both of these treaties. New Zealand ratified the Convention on Diplomatic Relations on 23 September 1970, and the Convention on Consular Relations on 10 September 1974. The treaties have been implemented in New Zealand through the Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act 1968 and the Consular Privileges and Immunities Act 1971.
The exact immunities granted to an individual depend on his or her role within the post, but in general terms key aspects of diplomatic privileges and immunities include:
Although diplomats are generally immune from the criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction of the host country’s courts, they are still under a duty to respect the host country’s laws and remain subject to their home country’s jurisdiction. A diplomat’s home government can decide to waive immunity where a diplomat has committed an offence, or may decide to take its own actions against the offender. In addition, the Vienna Convention provides for specific measures that can be taken by both the home and host governments in cases where diplomatic privileges and immunity have been misused or abused.