Ugandan diplomat’s plight ends in victory after protracted litigation
DIPLOMAT’S PLIGHT ENDS IN VICTORY.
A domestic worker, Daphine Wokuri, of the Uganda High Commission who was assigned to the then Deputy High Commissioner Ambassador Dr Mumtaz Kassam in 2006, commenced proceedings in the Chancery Division of the High Court against her personally, for alleged unpaid wages for the past 13 years. Ms. Wokuri was initially employed by Mumtaz Kassam in Uganda in 1998 where they are both domiciled.
The proceedings brought about in the UK in early 2011 were completely baseless and without foundation and Ambassador Mumtaz Kassam opposed the proceedings on the grounds that the Courts of England and Wales have no jurisdiction on the grounds of Diplomatic and State Immunity. To circumvent this, the employee alleged that she had a personal contract with Ambassador Mumtaz Kassam and that she did not sign the contract with the Uganda High Commission in 2006 and claimed it was a forgery. A few weeks before trial date to determine the issues of immunity, Ms. Wokuri’s solicitors conceded that they were prepared to accept that the 2006 contract existed! However, on the first day of trial 13th November before Judge Peter Smith, they insisted that their client did not sign the contract.
The protracted satellite litigation between the parties culminated in Judge Peter Smith on Wednesday 13 th November 3013 declaring that the claim was against the wrong party, and in case the old 1998 private Contract between the parties was still valid, the courts in England and Wales would not have jurisdiction. He further mentioned that any alternative claim that the employee sought to bring against the Uganda High Commission, would fail on the grounds of State Immunity. Therefore, rather than proceed any further in the Trial, Daphine Wokuri was given the opportunity to withdraw her contradictory claim which she did unreservedly, apologising to Mumtaz Kassam and admitted that all her allegations against Mumtaz Kassam were unfounded.
It appears that the primary reason as to why the parties fell out two and a half years ago, was Daphine Wokuri’s concern that her employment with the Uganda High Commission would terminate and she would have to return to Uganda. With this predicament facing her, she became difficult and cantankerous with Mumtaz Kassam, whose tour of duty was ending in the UK and she was being posted to another mission. Various unjust demands including that Mumtaz Kassam write a letter for her, in order to get indefinite leave were made by Ms. Wokuri. Mumtaz Kassam’s refusal to write such a letter as Ms. Wokuri was now employed by the Uganda High Commission sparked the the vicious proceedings. Supported by four different limited liability law firms, all claiming to act for Ms.Wokuri on a no win no fee basis (conditional fee Agreement), Ms. Wokuri proceeded to make wild and false allegations against Mumtaz Kassam in an attempt to circumvent the immunity provisions under the Diplomatic Immunity and Privileges Act 1964; the State Immunity Act and the Vienna Convention which offer diplomats protection from certain civil prosecutions.
Over the course of the 2 and half year period, there were 7 court appearances. At every turn, Ms. Wokuri and her lawyers moved the goal post to such an extent that the claim had no resemblance to the allegations now being presented. She also changed the year in which she claims to have commenced employment with Mumtaz Kassam originally. She alleged that any contract she had with Uganda High Commission was a forgery, in spite of having received a generous gratuity payment and salary from the High Commission. She falsified her monthly salary. She also stated that she was kept in captivity and was threatened with deportation. The truth was in fact the converse. She travelled to Uganda annually, and was treated like a family member.
In order to rebut Ms. Wokuri’s allegations, Mumtaz Kassam needed to establish that the 2006 contract with the Uganda High Commission was not a forgery, that Ms. Wokuri was not a private staff and that the majority of the work that she did was associated with Mumtaz Kassam’s diplomatic functions. Mumtaz Kassam had 7 credible witnesses averring that not only was Ms.Wokuri employed by the Uganda High Commission but she undertook official tasks on a regular basis.
Another important aspect of this case was its timing. The proceedings were commenced weeks after Ambassador Dr Kassam was transferred to the Uganda Embassy in Rome. Thus a further issue arose as to whether MUMTAZ KASSAM was entitled to residual diplomatic immunity under Article 39(2) of Schedule 1 of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964.
Judge Paul Smith on the first day of Trial, mentioned that if the 1998 private employment contract was valid then the UK courts would not have any jurisdiction as the contract was made in Uganda. As regards the 2006 contract which Daphine Wokuri signed with the Uganda High Commission, Judge Paul Smith indicated that there was overwhelming evidence that it was not a forgery and that her claim against Mumtaz Kassam was misplaced.
Ms. Wokuri was then advised about the futility of her claim and she withdrew her claim on the following basis:
“The claimant unreservedly apologises and withdraws all allegations made against the Defendant which she conceded were unfounded”
After the hearing on 13th and 14th November,, Mumtaz Kassam commented, “I am so relieved that the ordeal is over for me. For two and a half years I had to endure malicious allegations and constant court appearances which were designed to increase the costs. Lawyers should be prohibited from acting on a no win-no fee basis in such cases involving diplomats.”
Mumtaz Kassam was represented by Mr. Atul Amin and Mrs. Salma Sacharine of Hugh Cartwright and Amin Solicitors, who were supported by two leading Counsels, Prof Dan Sarooshi and Mr. Phillip Aliker.