Incident at the Bahrain Embassy in London

The following is a comment I provided to a journalist at Channel 4 News who called to enquire about examples of the Police entering diplomatic and consular premises to save life in the aftermath of an incident which took place at the Bahrain Embassy in London. The incident was unprecedented on UK soil. Unlike the Libyan embassy incident which resulted in the death of PC Yvonne Fletcher, (see, [articles page]) the Police were able to enter and intervene before murder was committed. Staff in the embassy were apparently and allegedly about to throw a protestor off the roof when the police forced entry into the embassy. The entry was made without the prior consent of the head of the mission.


(Link to the story provided 09.08.2019 by ITV News)

Further to your enquiry, Article 22 of the Vienna Conventions states, 

‘1.    The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

2.     The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

3.     The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.’ 

An embassy is therefore prima facie immune from entry by the Police under any circumstances, unless the Head of the Mission has granted his consent, or the status of the premises has been removed, see paragraph 8.11 of Satow’s Diplomatic Practice (6th ed) by Sir Ivor Roberts (attached). 

However, under paragraph 2 of Article 22 of the Vienna Convention, the receiving state is under a duty to ‘take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any … impairment of its dignity.’ Therefore, in my opinion, if the Police judge that by throwing a protester off the roof (and possibly to his death), the dignity of the Bahrain embassy will be impaired, they may enter in order to prevent that act by removing the protester from the premises (i.e. to save life as violence by embassy staff would otherwise impair the dignity of the premises). The same principle presumptively applies to the death of Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Ankarra, i.e. had the authorities been able to prevent the murder of this journalist.