Sovereign immunity
Sovereign immunity, or crown immunity, is a legal doctrine
Legal doctrine
A legal doctrine is a framework, set of rules, procedural steps, or test, often established through precedent in the common law, through which judgments can be determined in a given legal case. A doctrine comes about when a judge makes a ruling where a process is outlined and applied, and allows...

 by which the sovereign
A monarch is the person who heads a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and occasionally rules for life or until abdication...

 or state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

 cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit
A lawsuit or "suit in law" is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint...

 or criminal prosecution
Criminal law
Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...


In constitutional monarchies
Constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, whether it be a written, uncodified or blended constitution...

 the sovereign is the historical origin of the authority which creates the courts. Thus the courts had no power to compel the sovereign to be bound by the courts, as they were created by the sovereign for the protection of his or her subjects.


There is no automatic Crown immunity in Australia, although the Crown may be explicitly or implicitly immune from any particular statute. There is a rebuttable presumption that the Crown is not bound by a statute: Bropho v State of Western Australia
Bropho v State of Western Australia
Bropho v State of Western Australia was a decision of the High Court of Australia, which ruled on 20 June 1990 that Section 17 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 of Western Australia bound the Crown in right of Western Australia.-Legislation:...

. The Crown's immunity may also apply to other parties in certain circumstances: see Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Baxter Healthcare
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Baxter Healthcare
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Baxter Healthcare Pty Ltd was a decision of the High Court of Australia, which ruled on 29 August 2007 that Baxter Healthcare Proprietary Limited, a tenderer for various government contracts, was bound by the Trade Practices Act 1974 in its trade and...



Article 88 of the Constitution of Belgium
Constitution of Belgium
The Constitution of Belgium dates back to 1831. Since then Belgium has been a parliamentary monarchy that applies the principles of ministerial responsibility for the government policy and the Trias Politica. The Constitution established Belgium as a centralised unitary state...

 states: The King’s person is inviolable; his ministers are accountable.


Article 13 of the Constitution of Denmark
Constitution of Denmark
The Constitutional Act of Denmark is the Kingdom of Denmark's constitution, or fundamental law. Originally verified in 1849, the last revision was signed on 5 June 1953 as "the existing law, for all to unswerving comply with, the Constitutional Act of Denmark".-Idea and structure:The main...

 states: The King shall not be answerable for his actions; his person shall be sacrosanct. The Ministers shall be responsible for the conduct of the government; their responsibility shall be determined by Statute. Accordingly the monarch
Monarchy of Denmark
The monarchy in Denmark is the constitutional monarchy of the Kingdom of Denmark, which includes Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.As a constitutional monarch, the Queen is limited to non-partisan, ceremonial functions...

 cannot be sued in his or her personal capacity, but this immunity from lawsuits does not extend to the state as such.

Holy See

The Holy See
Holy See
The Holy See is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, in which its Bishop is commonly known as the Pope. It is the preeminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church. As such, diplomatically, and in other spheres the Holy See acts and...

, of which the current pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 is head (often referred to incorrectly as the Vatican or Vatican City State, a distinct entity) claims sovereign immunity for the pope, supported by many international agreements.


According to article 11 of the constitution of Iceland
Constitution of Iceland
The Constitution of Iceland is the supreme law of Iceland. It is composed of 80 articles in seven sections, and within it the leadership arrangement of the country is determined and the human rights of its citizens are preserved. The current constitution was first instituted on June 17, 1944; since...

 the president is not accountable and cannot be prosecuted without parliament's consent.


In Byrne v Ireland, the Irish Supreme Court
Supreme Court (Ireland)
The Supreme Court of Ireland is the highest judicial authority in the Republic of Ireland. It is a court of final appeal and exercises, in conjunction with the High Court, judicial review over Acts of the Oireachtas . The Court also has jurisdiction to ensure compliance with the Constitution of...

 declared that sovereign immunity had not survived the creation of the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 in 1922, and that accordingly the state could be sued for and held vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of its servants and agents.


According to the Italian Constitution, the President of the Italian Republic is not accountable, and he is not responsible for any act of his office, unless he has committed high treason or attempted to subvert the Constitution. The Italian penal law makes it a criminal offense to give the President responsibility for actions of the Italian Government in public.

The Italian Constitutional Court has declared the partial incompatibility with the Italian Constitution of a law that forced courts to delay all trials against the Italian Prime Minister while he is in office. The revised version says that the trial hearings have to be scheduled in agreement between the Judge and the Government.


In Malaysia, an amendment to the constitution
1993 amendments to the Constitution of Malaysia
The 1993 amendments to the Constitution of Malaysia was passed by the Malaysian parliament with the aim of removing legal immunity of the royalty. The changes, which saw the amendments of Articles 32, 38, 42, 63, 72 and 181 in the Constitution of Malaysia, was implemented in March 1993...

 in 1993 made it possible to bring proceedings against the king
Yang di-Pertuan Agong
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the head of state of Malaysia. The office was established in 1957 when the Federation of Malaya gained independence....

 or any ruler of a component state in the Special Court. Prior to 1993, rulers, in their personal capacity, were immune from any proceedings brought against them.


Section 308 of the Nigerian constitution of 1999 provides immunity from court proceedings, i.e., proceedings that will compel their attendance in favour of elected executive officers, namely the President and his vice and the Governors of the states and the deputies. This immunity extends to acts done in their official capacities so that they are not responsible for acts done on behalf of the state. However, this immunity does not extend to acts done in abuse of the powers of their office of which they are liable upon the expiration of their tenure. But does the elected executive constitute the sovereign in Nigeria? it seems that the judiciary will be better described as the sovereign in Nigeria if the sovereign is the person who in the last resort is able to decide his own competence and that of other contender in the event of any conflict of authority. Failing this, the constitution as an expression of the will of Nigerians is the sovereign.It is important to note that the judiciary has absolute immunity for actions decisions taken in their official capacity.


Article 5 of the Constitution of Norway
Constitution of Norway
The Constitution of Norway was first adopted on May 16, 1814 by the Norwegian Constituent Assembly at Eidsvoll , then signed and dated May 17...

 states: The King's person is sacred; he cannot be censured or accused. The responsibility rests with his Council.
Accordingly the monarch cannot be prosecuted or sued in his or her personal capacity, but this immunity does not extend to the state as such.


The Spanish monarch is personally immune from prosecution for acts committed by government ministers in the King's name, according to Title II, Section 56, Subsection 3 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978
Spanish Constitution of 1978
-Structure of the State:The Constitution recognizes the existence of nationalities and regions . Preliminary Title As a result, Spain is now composed entirely of 17 Autonomous Communities and two autonomous cities with varying degrees of autonomy, to the extent that, even though the Constitution...


The Person of the King of Spain is inviolable and shall not be held accountable. His acts shall always be countersigned in the manner established in section 64. Without such countersignature they shall not be valid, except as provided under section 65(2).

La persona del Rey de España es inviolable y no está sujeta a responsabilidad. Sus actos estarán siempre refrendados en la forma establecida en el artículo 64, careciendo de validez sin dicho refrendo, salvo lo dispuesto en el artículo 65,2.

Sri Lanka

By the Constitution of Sri Lanka
Constitution of Sri Lanka
The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka has been the constitution of the island nation of Sri Lanka since its original promulgation by the National State Assembly on 7 September 1978. It is Sri Lanka's second republican constitution, and its third constitution since the...

, the President of Sri Lanka
President of Sri Lanka
The President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is the elected head of state and the head of government. The President is a dominant political figure in Sri Lanka. The office was created in 1978 but has grown so powerful there have been calls to restrict or even eliminate its power...

 has sovereign immunity.


Article 7, Chapter 5, of the Swedish Instrument of Government
Constitution of Sweden
The Swedish Constitution consists of four fundamental laws :* The 1810 Act of Succession * The 1949 Freedom of the Press Act * The 1974 Instrument of Government * The 1991 Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression...

 states: "The King may not be prosecuted for his actions. Nor may a Regent be prosecuted for his actions as Head of State." This only concerns the King as a private person, since he does not appoint the government, nor do any public officials act in his name. It does not concern other members of the Royal Family, except in such cases as they are exercising the office of Regent when the King is unable to serve. It is a disputed matter among Swedish constitutional lawyers whether the article also implies that the King is immune against lawsuits in civil cases, which do not involve prosecution.


The President of Singapore
President of Singapore
The President of the Republic of Singapore is Singapore's head of state. In a Westminster parliamentary system, as which Singapore governs itself, the prime minister is the head of the government while the position of president is largely ceremonial. Before 1993, the President of Singapore was...

 does to a certain extent have sovereign
A sovereign is the supreme lawmaking authority within its jurisdiction.Sovereign may also refer to:*Monarch, the sovereign of a monarchy*Sovereign Bank, banking institution in the United States*Sovereign...

 immunity subjected to clause 22k(4). Part V under government regarding the President of Singapore)

Immunity in proceedings

Historically, the general rule in the United Kingdom has been that the Crown
The Crown
The Crown is a corporation sole that in the Commonwealth realms and any provincial or state sub-divisions thereof represents the legal embodiment of governance, whether executive, legislative, or judicial...

 has never been able to be prosecuted or proceeded against in either criminal or civil cases. The only means by which civil proceedings could be brought were:
  • by way of petition of right
    Petition of right
    In English law, a petition of right was a remedy available to subjects to recover property from the Crown.Before the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, the British Crown could not be sued in contract...

    , which was dependent on the grant of the royal fiat (i.e. permission);
  • by suits against the Attorney-General for a declaration; or
  • by actions against ministers or government departments where an Act of Parliament had specifically provided that immunity be waived.

The position was drastically altered by the Crown Proceedings Act 1947
Crown Proceedings Act 1947
The Crown Proceedings Act 1947 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that allowed, for the first time, civil actions against the Crown to be brought in the same way as against any other party...

 which made the Crown (when acting as the government) liable as of right in proceedings where it was previously only liable by virtue of a grant of a fiat.
With limited exceptions, this had the effect of allowing proceedings for tort
A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general...

 and contract
A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...

 to be brought against the Crown. Proceedings to bring writs of mandamus
A writ of mandamus or mandamus , or sometimes mandate, is the name of one of the prerogative writs in the common law, and is "issued by a superior court to compel a lower court or a government officer to perform mandatory or purely ministerial duties correctly".Mandamus is a judicial remedy which...

 and prohibition
Prohibition (writ)
A writ of prohibition is a writ directing a subordinate to stop doing something the law prohibits. In practice, the Court directs the Clerk to issue the Writ, and directs the Sheriff to serve it on the subordinate, and the Clerk prepares the Writ and gives it to the Sheriff, who serves it.This...

 were always available against ministers
Minister (government)
A minister is a politician who holds significant public office in a national or regional government. Senior ministers are members of the cabinet....

, because their actions derive from the royal prerogative
Royal Prerogative (United Kingdom)
The Royal Prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognised in the United Kingdom as the sole prerogative of the Sovereign. Many of the executive powers of British government, vested in a monarch, have been bestowed under the mandate of the Royal...


Criminal proceedings are still prohibited from being brought unless expressly permitted by statute.

As the Crown Proceedings Act only affected the law in respect of acts carried on by or on behalf of the UK government, the monarch remains personally immune from criminal and civil actions. However, civil proceedings can, in theory, still be brought using the two original mechanisms outlined above - by petition of right or by suit against the Attorney-General for a declaration.

Other immunities

The monarch is immune from arrest in all cases, and members of the royal household
Royal Household
A Royal Household in ancient and medieval monarchies formed the basis for the general government of the country as well as providing for the needs of the sovereign and his relations....

 are also immune from arrest in civil proceedings. No arrest can be made "in the monarch's presence", or within the "verges" of a royal palace. When a royal palace is used as a residence (regardless of whether the monarch is actually living there at the time), judicial processes cannot be executed within that palace.

The monarch's goods cannot be taken under a writ of execution
Writ of execution
A writ of execution is a court order granted in an attempt to satisfy a monetary judgment obtained by a plaintiff. When issuing a writ of execution, a court typically will order a sheriff or other similar official to take possession of property owned by a judgment debtor...

, nor can distress
Distraint or distress is "the seizure of someone’s property in order to obtain payment of rent or other money owed", especially in common law countries...

 be levied on land in their possession. Chattels owned by the Crown, but present on another's land, cannot be taken in execution or for distress. The Crown is not subject to foreclosure
Foreclosure is the legal process by which a mortgage lender , or other lien holder, obtains a termination of a mortgage borrower 's equitable right of redemption, either by court order or by operation of law...


United States

In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, the federal government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

 has sovereign immunity and may not be sued unless it has waived its immunity or consented to suit. The United States has waived sovereign immunity to a limited extent, mainly through the Federal Tort Claims Act
Federal Tort Claims Act
The Federal Tort Claims Act or "FTCA", , is a statute enacted by the United States Congress in 1948. "Federal Tort Claims Act" was also previously the official short title passed by the Seventy-ninth Congress on August 2, 1946 as Title IV of the Legislative Reorganization Act, 60 Stat...

, which waives the immunity if a tort
A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general...

ious act of a federal employee causes damage, and the Tucker Act
Tucker Act
Through the Tucker Act , the United States government has waived its sovereign immunity with respect to certain lawsuits....

, which waives the immunity over claims arising out of contracts to which the federal government is a party.

State sovereign immunity

In Hans v. Louisiana
Hans v. Louisiana
Hans v. Louisiana, , was a decision of the United States Supreme Court determining that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits the citizen of a U.S. state to sue that state in a federal court.-Facts:The plaintiff, Hans, was a citizen of the state of Louisiana...

(1890), the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 held that the Eleventh Amendment
Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was passed by the Congress on March 4, 1794, and was ratified on February 7, 1795, deals with each state's sovereign immunity. This amendment was adopted in order to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Chisholm v...

 (1795) re-affirms that states possess sovereign immunity and are therefore generally immune from being sued in federal court without their consent. In later cases, the Supreme Court has strengthened state sovereign immunity considerably. In Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak (1991), the court explained that

In Alden v. Maine
Alden v. Maine
Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States about whether the United States Congress may use its Article One powers to abrogate a state's sovereign immunity from suits in its own courts, thereby allowing citizens to sue a state without the state's...

(1999), the Court explained that while it has

Writing for the court in Alden, Justice Anthony Kennedy
Anthony Kennedy
Anthony McLeod Kennedy is an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, having been appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Since the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor, Kennedy has often been the swing vote on many of the Court's politically charged 5–4 decisions...

 argued that in view of this, and given the limited nature of congressional power delegated by the original unamended Constitution, the court could not "conclude that the specific Article I powers delegated to Congress necessarily include, by virtue of the Necessary and Proper Clause or otherwise, the incidental authority to subject the States to private suits as a means of achieving objectives otherwise within the scope of the enumerated powers."

However, a "consequence of [the] Court's recognition of pre-ratification sovereignty as the source of immunity from suit is that only States and arms of the State possess immunity from suits authorized by federal law." Northern Insurance Company of New York v. Chatham County
Northern Insurance Company of New York v. Chatham County
Northern Insurance Company of New York v. Chatham County, 547 U.S. 189 was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States addressing whether state counties enjoyed sovereign immunity from private lawsuits authorized by federal law. The case involved an admiralty claim by an insurer against...

(2006 emphases added). Thus, cities and municipalities lack sovereign immunity, Jinks v. Richland County (2003), and counties are not generally considered to have sovereign immunity, even when they "exercise a 'slice of state power.'" Lake Country Estates, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (1979).

International law

Sovereign immunity is available to countries in international court but if they are acting more as a contracting body (example: making agreements in regards to extracting oil and selling it), then sovereign immunity may not be available to them.

Under international law, and subject to some conditions, countries are immune from legal proceedings in another state. This stems from customary international law. The US recognizes this concept under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 is a United States law, codified at Title 28, §§ 1330, 1332, 1391, 1441, and 1602-1611 of the United States Code, that establishes the limitations as to whether a foreign sovereign nation may be sued in U.S. courts—federal or state...


See also

  • Command responsibility
    Command responsibility
    Command responsibility, sometimes referred to as the Yamashita standard or the Medina standard, and also known as superior responsibility, is the doctrine of hierarchical accountability in cases of war crimes....

  • Impeachment
    Impeachment is a formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity, the outcome of which, depending on the country, may include the removal of that official from office as well as other punishment....

  • Diplomatic immunity
    Diplomatic immunity
    Diplomatic immunity is a form of legal immunity and a policy held between governments that ensures that diplomats are given safe passage and are considered not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country's laws...

  • Other forms of immunity
  • Public Duty Doctrine
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