An intervention in the case of Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum reveals the political limits to our legal system
This weekend’s long read pick comes courtesy of Matthew Scott’s award-winning Barrister Blog, where he discusses the recent ruling in the Family Division of the Royal Courts of Justice against Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai.
The article recounts, in Scott’s careful and lawyerly writing, a story so lurid it feels plucked from a pulp fiction novel. Sheikh Mohammed initiated proceedings against his wife Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, for — so claims the sheikh — ‘abducting’ two of their children from Dubai and bringing them to England. Princess Haya, on the other hand, claimed that the sheikh planned to force one of the children, 12-year-old Jalila, to marry the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
One of the Sheikh’s own lawyers, Lord Pannick, “perhaps horrified at the can of noxious writhing worms that the litigation threatened to open up”, suggested measures that would have protected the emir from the full details of the case being examined. However Sheikh Mohammed declined, also refusing to submit himself for cross-examination and instructing his own legal team that they should also take no part in the hearing.
The resulting clash of worlds — that of the scrupulous Anglophone rule of law on the one hand, and of an incalculably wealthy absolutist monarch who views his offspring as property on the other — unfolds an astonishing story in language almost comically understated.
One daughter, Shamsa, was taken from England by the sheikh’s employees, who she claims were armed, and injected her with a sedative. Another daughter, Latifa, was dragged screaming by Indian special forces from a yacht on which she was attempting an escape planned for over seven years.
Despite the outrages visited on these women, which the court found likely to be true, evidence points to direct intervention by the Foreign Office to prevent further police investigation into the allegations. Even in the UK, a country famous for adherence to the rule of law, we thus see that pragmatic political limits exist to its application:
So far, it appears that the only sanction administered by the British legal system against Sheikh Mohammed has been a refusal by the Queen to be photographed with him.