Raab backs claim against Sacoolas
Foreign secretary "strongly supports" civil case brought by Harry Dunn's parents
The foreign secretary has told the parents of Harry Dunn, the motorcyclist who died in Northamptonshire last year after being hit by a car driven on the wrong side of the road by the former US intelligence officer Anne Sacoolas, that he “strongly supports” their right to bring a civil claim against her in her home state of Virginia.
Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn issued proceedings in September against Sacoolas and her husband Jonathan, who is said to be vicariously liable for his wife’s alleged negligence. The complaint lists 11 separate claims and seeks a jury trial.
Sky News, which broke the story, reports that the defendants are trying to persuade the Virginia district court that it would be more convenient for the case to be heard in England — where most of the witnesses are based.
But Sacoolas and her husband have made it clear that they are not willing to return to the UK, where she faces prosecution. She is also unlikely to have any assets in the UK that could be seized to meet an award of damages.
Sky News have seen a letter sent by Dominic Raab to Harry Dunn’s parents:
The foreign secretary introduces his comments by referring to the question of where the civil claim should be heard. He continues:
I strongly support your right to bring this case. It is of course for the US courts to decide the issue of venue but for our part the British government takes the view that British citizens can bring their case in whichever court they think appropriate.
The defendant has said she will not appear if the case is brought in the UK courts. I fully understand therefore your wish to pursue the case in the United States, and have confidence in the US court's ability to hear the case consistent with your interests in this matter.
As you know we have offered support to allow you to attend the hearings in Virginia, and I understand other witnesses are also ready to go to the US. I note also that the UK is party to The Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters.
As we have said publicly, we believe that what has happened in Harry’s case amounts to a denial of justice. In comparable circumstances, the UK would waive immunity. I hope therefore your action in the United States is able to proceed.
Raab’s reference to the Hague evidence convention, ratified by the US and the UK in the 1970s, is a reminder to the Virginia court that the evidence it needs can be obtained without difficulty from witnesses in England. It’s not known how the court will react to what it may see as an attempt by a foreign government to intervene in an issue it is being asked to decide.
What makes this case particularly unusual is that Harry Dunn’s parents are currently bringing legal proceedings against Raab in the courts of England and Wales. They are challenging his view that Sacoolas was entitled to immunity from criminal proceedings in the UK. Last month, the High Court concluded that she did have immunity. Lord Justice Flaux and Mr Justice Saini added:
We do not come to this conclusion with any enthusiasm for the result, but it is compelled by the operation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The claimants are seeking to appeal.
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