THE wife of a US diplomat Anne Sacoolas was granted diplomatic immunity after she was involved in a hit and run crash which left a 19-year-old dead.
What is diplomatic immunity?
While it depends on rank, top officers get full immunity in their host country along with their deputies and families, following laws crafted in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.
This means ambassadors can commit any crime, including murder, and be immune from local law which includes being arrested, prosecuted or being forced to testify in court.
They can still be expelled from the country they are based in.
This immunity became contentious as when unarmed PC Yvone Fletcher, 25, died in April 1984 after shots were fired from inside the Libyan Embassy in London at an anti-Gaddafi protest outside.
When the siege ended after 11 days, all Libyan diplomats made their way out of the embassy and were given passage to the airport.
The Libyan government accepted “general responsibility” for the shooting 15 years later and offered compensation to her family, but no one has been convicted for her murder.
Customs give diplomats “courtesy of ports” at airports, which means their luggage can be passed through without inspection.
They must still pass through security checkpoints like other travellers, but many are given an express route.
What is a diplomat?
A diplomat is an ambassador, envoy or other official whose job is to represent their country while based abroad.
This can be split into three main roles involving political, commercial and consular interests.
A political diplomat monitors political and economic developments in other countries as well as representing a country in government and the media.
Commercial diplomats promote trade and investment, while consular staff assist citizens from their country abroad and process visa applications.
Nikesh Mehta currently based at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has also worked in Iraq and Uganda, mingled with British royalty, dined with Hollywood stars and flew to war-torn Basra in Iraq in a Chinook military helicopter.
He said: “A typical day could involve lobbying on the UN security council resolution on Syria, for example, or it could involve working on a visit for a member of the royal family. It’s an incredibly varied workload.”
Spies are well known to operate in foreign countries under the cover of working as a “diplomat”.
Embassy staff are usually granted diplomatic immunity under international agreements, meaning they will not be prosecuted for breaking laws in the host country. They are likely to be sent home instead.
How do you become a diplomat?
To become a UK diplomat, you would need to apply to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).
Applicants need to pass a strict vetting test and meet nationality and residency requirements.
People from all backgrounds are welcome to apply but they may be asked for GCSEs, A levels and a degree.
No formal qualifications are needed but many staff are expected to speak the language of the country they are based in.
Christopher Meyer, the ex-UK ambassador in Washington DC at the time of the Iraq War in 2003, once suggested a good diplomat needs “a quick mind, a hard head, a strong stomach, a warm smile and a cold eye”.
It is expected you would have relevant work or life experience. Promotion could see you earn £45k a year within five years.
How many diplomats does the UK have?
The FCO employs around 14,000 staff – from 150 nationalities – around the world.
Around one third are made up of UK-based British civil servants whose career includes work in the UK and postings overseas.
The remainder are employed by a British diplomatic mission abroad.
The FCO has a network of 270 ministerial posts in 160 countries.
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What are diplomatic number plates?
Diplomatic number plates are issued to vehicles used by diplomats in the UK.
They follow a simple pattern and are designed to be instantly recognisable.
They all have three digits, a letter D, and three more digits.
The first three digits tell you what country the diplomat represents, the D is for diplomat and the last three digits are for internal identification.
Administrative staff – non-diplomatic staff who work on diplomatic missions – follow the same format, but with an X instead of a D.