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State Immunity and the Targeting of Dissidents in the UK - Landmark Ruling

It is an established fact that certain foreign powers resort to violence and the use of surveillance software to target dissidents in the UK. In a ground-breaking ruling, the High Court considered whether the principle of state immunity precludes them from being sued for damages in this country.

The case concerned a satirist and human rights activist who was a prominent critic of a foreign state. A UK resident for almost 20 years, he alleged that his mobile phones had been infected with spyware by persons acting on behalf of the state and that he had, at the state's behest, been assaulted on the street.

He launched a personal injury claim against the state in England, alleging that he had, as a result, suffered psychiatric trauma. The state denied his allegations and asserted that his claim should in any event be blocked on the basis that it enjoyed immunity from the jurisdiction of the English courts under the State Immunity Act 1978.

Ruling on the matter, the Court found that the acts complained of, if proved, fell within an exception to state immunity contained within Section 5 of the Act. That provision excludes from immunity claims in respect of death, personal injury or damage to property caused by an act or omission in the UK.

On the evidence, the Court found it overwhelmingly likely that there was a proper basis for concluding that the state used spyware at the relevant time and that it did so against persons of interest abroad. If the man's phones had been hacked, the state was the only viable candidate as perpetrator.

Turning to the alleged assault, the Court noted that the state was known to target dissidents and to use violence against them. The evidence that the attack was instigated, directed or authorised by the state was circumstantial. However, in opening the way for the man's case to proceed to trial, the Court found that he had established a coherent and realistic basis for his claim.