Politics 24/03/2022

British court rules it can try former king Juan Carlos I

Immunity of former king after his abdication rejected in alleged harassment of Corinna Larsen

3 min
Joan Carles I in an archive image.

The UK's High Court has ruled Thursday that Juan Carlos I has no legal immunity in England after his abdication and that he can be tried. Thus, the proceedings opened against him for the lawsuit filed by his former mistress Corinna Larsen for alleged harassment go ahead. In December 2020 the businesswoman started legal actions against Juan Carlos I, over acts that took place after 2012, when they put an end to their relationship. Larsen reported threats and persecution in which the Spanish Intelligence services (CNI) were allegedly involved.

Last December, Judge Matthew Nicklin asked whether he could prosecute Juan Carlos I before continuing with the litigation, after the former Spanish monarch invoked the UK's State Immunity Act, which grants protection to third states and other countries' heads of state. The resolution made public this Thursday includes defence's arguments: he argues that he is not above the law, but outside the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. "He is subject only to the jurisdiction of the Spanish Supreme Court," argued Juan Carlos I's legal team.

In addition, it asserted that he enjoyed immunity with respect to his actions while he was head of state, which he should keep after his abdication for two reasons: on the one hand, because he is a member of the royal family; on the other, because he maintained the status of "sovereign" of the Spanish monarchy until, in June 2019, he retired from public life. "There is a public policy imperative to protect the dignity of a sovereign and the dignity of the monarchy," lawyer Daniel Bethlehem, acting for the defence, argued.

Corinna's counsel, James Lewis, refuted these arguments and the judge agreed with him. He rejects that he should keep the condition of "sovereign" – he makes clear that since the abdication it is only given to Felipe VI as king of Spain – and charges against the defence's thesis: "In its starkest form, Sir Daniel's [Juan Carlos I's lawyer] argument, if accepted, would mean that if, tomorrow, the defendant were to walk into a Hatton Garden jeweller's and steal a diamond ring, he could not face any civil or criminal proceedings in this jurisdiction (unless the Spanish state waived his immunity). There is nothing in the principles of international law or respect for the dignity and sovereignty of the Spanish state that could lead to such a conclusion," he says.

The judge also rejects that the former king can benefit from a certain protection as a member of the Royal Household. Although Juan Carlos I is a member of the Royal Household, the judge concludes that he cannot be considered a close collaborator or "dependent" of the current king. "He doesn't live with him and he doesn't even live in Spain," Nicklin stresses. "I asked Sir Daniel whether his client would remain part of the Royal Household with immunity prerogatives if he left for Siberia and had no further contact with his family or anyone in Spain. He told me that he was reluctant to pronounce himself in such crude terms, but it was the effect of his allegations. In my view, this demonstrates that his argument is that the term household means nothing more than being a 'member of the family,'" the judge stresses. He even notes that, "although it is not decisive", the State has not provided any evidence that Juan Carlos I is part of the Royal Household.

Juan Carlos's last front

The decision of the British judiciary comes three weeks after the Spanish Prosecutor's Office renounced to file a lawsuit over his hidden assets abroad. The proceedings were closed shortly after Swiss prosecutors filed the case over the €65m Juan Carlos received from Saudi Arabia in 2008 and then transferred to Corinna Larsen. Juan Carlos's judicial ordeal seemed almost over, with only the case in the UK left. However, the judge's decision means he will, after all, stand trial.