Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US diplomat, has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving in connection with the death of Harry Dunn who died when his motorbike was hit by her car outside RAF Croughton on 27 August 2019. It is alleged that Mrs Sacoolas was travelling on the wrong side of the road when the collision occurred.
In the aftermath of the crash, Mrs Sacoolas returned to the US and claimed diplomatic immunity. The immunities afforded to diplomatic staff are primarily set out in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the relevant provisions of which have been applied in the UK by section 2 of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964. Under these provisions, immunity also attaches to the family members of diplomats. These privileges remain operative in the UK for 31 days following the termination of the diplomat’s functions. The power to waive diplomatic immunity lies with the sending state and the US authorities have been adamant in their view that at the time of the accident Mrs Sacoolas was covered by diplomatic immunity. Whether this was in fact the case would be the key question for any US court considering a formal UK extradition request, and the US authorities, when considering whether to accept the request in the first instance.
In response to the announcement by the CPS, the US State Department reiterated this view and said that “the use of an extradition treaty to attempt to return the spouse of a former diplomat by force would establish an extraordinarily troubling precedent.”
Extradition from the US to the UK is governed by a 2003 Extradition Treaty between the two countries. Requests are sent through diplomatic channels. The CPS prepares requests which are then sent by the Home Office to the US State Department by way of the British Embassy in Washington DC.
In response to the charging decision, Mrs Sacoolas’ lawyer, stated that her client would not return voluntarily to the UK to face the charge. If convicted, Mrs Sacoolas faces a possible maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment.