Saudi diplomat will be sued by 'slave labour' maid who claims she worked 17-hour days, Supreme Court rules

NIcholas Cecil, Tristan Kirk
The Saudi Arabian embassy in London: AFP/Getty Images

The Supreme Court today delivered a landmark victory to the campaign against domestic slavery, ruling that a Saudi envoy cannot hide behind diplomatic immunity to avoid being sued by a woman he is accused of putting to work for up to 17 hours a day.

Filipina Cherrylyn Reyes claimed she was forced to work at the official residence of Jarallah al-Malki and his wife as soon as she arrived in Britain. She says her passport was confiscated, she was banned from leaving the home and told she could not contact her family.

Ms Reyes, who fled the residence after three months, sued for racial discrimination and harassment but was told by an employment tribunal that her claim would fail because Mr al-Malki has diplomatic immunity. However, the Supreme Court today ruled immunity expired when he left the UK in 2014, and he should face the tribunal.

Ms Reyes said: “I know there are lots of other domestic workers who have suffered like me, and I’m delighted they will be able to use this case to get redress and not wait as long as I have.” The al-Malkis, who deny the claims, declined to comment. The Government had urged the courts to uphold Mr al-Malki’s immunity.

In the ruling, Lord Wilson said it was “an apparent serious case of domestic servitude in our capital city”, although he stressed the court was not making a judgment on Ms Reyes’s allegations. Campaigners hailed the ruling, which comes on Anti Slavery Day.

Former MP Anthony Steen, chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, said: “This is a landmark case which allows for trafficked victims to access justice no matter what the status of the employer.” Emmy Gibbs of the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit said: “Overseas domestic workers in diplomatic households and embassies are exceptionally vulnerable.”

The court heard Ms Reyes was brought to the UK in 2011 thanks to papers given to her by Mr al-Malki, a member of the Saudi diplomatic delegation. She claims she was ill-treated, and fled the residence with the help of police.

In a separate ruling today, the court found in favour of two Moroccan nationals employed at the Libyan and Sudanese embassies who claim they have been paid below the minimum wage.