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Khobragade affair: A clash of jurisdictions between Indian, US courts

Satya Prakash, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, December 19, 2013
First Published: 01:18 IST(19/12/2013) | Last Updated: 01:19 IST(19/12/2013)

As India and the US indulge in a diplomatic slugfest over the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, courts in the two countries are at loggerheads over their respective jurisdiction to deal with the dispute between the diplomat and her maid Sangeeta Richard.

Deputy consul general Khobragade, 39, was arrested, handcuffed in public and strip-searched on Thursday on a complaint by her maid that the diplomat was paying her less than the minimum wages stipulated under US visa requirements.

The Americans presume they have jurisdiction to deal with Richards’ complaint, as the US laws on minimum wages would apply. They claim Khobragade enjoys “consular immunity”, a limited diplomatic immunity related to her official duties and under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, consular officials can still be arrested for acts committed outside of official job functions.

But India maintains the maid is there on an official passport and as an ‘India-based domestic assistant’ (IDBA). Richard had actually signed a contract on November 23, 2012, with Khobragade agreeing to go to the US with the diplomat as an IDBA. The contract required her to work only for the diplomat while in the US and to return to India promptly after leaving employment.

After Richards left Khobragade’s residence in June, the diplomat had lodged an FIR at Delhi’s Mehrauli police station on July 2, 2013, accusing her of making a false promise to work as IDBA just to procure an official passport to enter the US.

Then Khorbagade moved the Delhi high court, seeking to restrain Richard from approaching any foreign court and declare that courts in Delhi alone would have jurisdiction on any dispute.

On September 20, the high court passed an order restraining Richard from initiating any legal proceedings in any court outside India with regards to her employment with Khobragade. On December 13, the HC reissued summons to Richard and her husband.

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