Diplomatic Agent

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Diplomatic Agent

Definition of Diplomatic Agent

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Diplomatic Agent : One of a class of state officials who are entrusted with the responsibility for representing their state and its interests and welfare and that of its citizens or subjects in the jurisdiction of another state or in international organizations.

Diplomatic agents can be generally classified into two groups:

  • heads of mission, and
  • members of the staff of the mission having diplomatic rank.


Rights and Privileges of Diplomatic Agents

These are partly founded upon immemorial custom, partly the result of negotiations embodied in international law. The most important, as it is the most ancient, is the right of personal inviolability extended to the diplomatic agent and the members of his suite. This inviolability is maintained after a rupture between the two governments concerned, and even after the outbreak of war. The habit of the Ottoman government of imprisoning in the Seven Towers the ambassador of a power with which it quarrelled was but an exception which proved the rule. The second important right is that of exterritoriality (q.v.), a convenient fiction by which the house and equipages of the diplomatic agent are regarded as the territory of the power by whom he is accredited. This involves the further principle that the agent is in no way subject to the receiving government. He is exempt from taxation and from the payment at least of certain local rates.

He also enjoys immunity:

  • from civil jurisdiction, e.g. he cannot be sued, nor can his goods be seized, for debt;
  • from criminal jurisdiction, e.g. he cannot be arrested and tried for a criminal offence.

For a crime of violence, however, or for plotting against the state, he can be placed under the necessary restraint and expelled the country. Gentilis, who had been consulted by the government in the case of the Spanish ambassador, Don Bernardino de Mendoza, expelled for intriguing against Queen Elizabeth, lays this down definitely. An ambassador, he says, need not be received, and he may be expelled. In actual practice a diplomatic agent who has made himself objectionable is withdrawn by his government on the representations of that to which he is accredited, and it is customary, before an ambassador is despatched, to find out whether he is a persona grata to the power to which he is accredited.

These immunities extend to all the members of an envoy’s suite. The difficulties that might be supposed to arise from such exemptions have not in practice been found very serious; for though, in the case of crimes committed by servants of agents of the first or second class the procedure is not clearly defined, each case would easily be made the subject of arrangement. In certain cases, e.g. embassies in Turkey, the exterritoriality of ambassadors implies a fairly extensive criminal jurisdiction; in other cases the dismissal of the servant would deprive him of his diplomatic immunity and bring him under the law of the land.

The right of granting asylum claimed by diplomatic agents in virtue of that of exterritoriality, at one time much abused, is now strictly limited. A political or criminal offender may seek asylum in a foreign embassy; but if, after a request has been formally made for his surrender, the ambassador refuses to deliver him up, the authorities may take the measures necessary to effect his arrest, and even force an entrance into the embassy for the purpose. The “right of chapel” (droit de chapelle, or droit de culte), enjoyed by envoys in reference to their exterritoriality, i.e. the right of free exercise of religious worship within their house, formerly of great importance, has been rendered superfluous by the spread of religious toleration. (See L. Oppenheim, Internat. Law (London, 1905) ,i. p. 441, &c.; A.W. Haffter, Das europäische Völkerrecht (Berlin, 1888), p. 435, etc.)(1)

Diplomatic Agent

Embracing mainstream international law, this section on diplomatic agent explores the context, history and effect of the area of the law covered here.

Description of Diplomatic Agent


See Also

  • Ambassadors
  • Consuls
  • Resources

    Further Reading

    • The entry “diplomatic agent” in the Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (currently, the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 2009), Oxford University Press


    Notes and References

    1. Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)

    See Also

    Further Reading

    Diplomatic immunity; diplomatic mission.

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