The notion of diplomatic immunity dates back to ancient times and was enshrined in international law in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.  Simply put, diplomats have blanket immunity from local laws in the countries where they are posted.  That means that while diplomats can be charged with criminal offences, or sued in civil matters, they cannot be taken to court unless their own government waives immunity.

Diplomatic staff—such as administrators and technical staff—have more limited immunity and are protected from prosecution for acts that relate to their duties.  In most cases, home countries withdraw diplomats who face serious criminal charges and deal with them back home.  Diplomatic immunity is essential to international relations—as hard as that is for people to accept after a woman is killed in a drunk-driving accident.

If you didn’t have these general blanket rules—which may seem unjust in a particular instance—then no state could feel secure sending its diplomats to another state.  It’s not that the diplomat goes scot-free.  It’s that the country, Russia in the drunk driving case, has the obligation to see that he/she is brought to justice.

The whole idea is to foster diplomatic contact between states without the fear of reprisal or monkey business with one another’s envoys.

A country does not like to see their interests, in the body of an individual, made vulnerable and normally will not waive diplomatic immunity.

Canada would be loath to take any action against diplomats in violation of their diplomatic immunity, for fear of retribution against Canada’s representatives abroad.



A diplomat is a state official who represents his/her country in negotiations, information, protection, public relations and administration.  They act like spokespeople for the country represented and look after the interests fo citizens living in the Host country that originally came from his/her state.

Immunity can be cancelled by the diplomat’s own country or the hosting State can send them back at any time during their stay declaring them “persona non grata”.  If a country is being send a diplomat that they have heard bad things across, they can say he/she is “non grata” which means he/she is not welcome here.  In other words, the hosting State has a say in who can actually come to our country and who can stay in our country as a diplomat.

Diplomats have invoked immunity to escape unpaid bills and criminal charges from bootlegging and assault to espionage.  They can only invoke immunity once and either have to leave the country with a black mark beside their name or they stay but are no longer diplomats.  That means that the next time they break the law, they can be prosecuted or declared “non grata”.


Simplistically, diplomatic immunity is the protection of a foreign diplomatic representative visiting another country.  It was introduced to promote cooperation among states.  It also protects diplomats from breaking an unknown law in a foreign country and being subjected to the punishment for this infraction.


The process whereby an individual/s enter an embassy and ask to be protected from religious or political persecution or for protection and possibly safe passage to another country.  This could also be used by visitors to a country who find they have lost their passport or are in some kind of danger or have been accused of breaking the law.

TREATY THAT APPLIES:   Vienna Convention 196l

Initially 142 country signed on voluntarily.  Under the treaty, “It is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state.  They also have the duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that state”.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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