CIA employee Anne Sacoolas skipped bail when she was supposed to appear for her sentencing for running over and killing a British youth.

Her excuse was that her employer had instructed her to do this. What was legal reasoning for not commencing committal proceedings against her and issuing a bench warrant?

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2 Answers 2


CIA employee Anne Sacoolas skipped bail when she was supposed to appear for her sentencing for running over and killing a British youth.

No. Your timeline is all messed up, the language extremely polemic and unbecoming of the case.

Case History

Impossibility to arrest Anne Sacoolas in the UK

First of all, the incident happened on 27th of August 2019. Police asked for a Diplomatic Immunity waiver to arrest Anne Sacoolas, as it appeared she was the prime suspect. On 16th September that waiver was formally declined, and Anne Sacoolas left the country on a US Air Force machine, on or around the 23rd September. As a result, she was neither arrested nor legally arrestable and could not be forced to take part in an interview. This was because she was covered under diplomatic immunity or at least believed to be so.

Interview with Anne Sacoolas

Only when Anne Saccoolas was in the US, around the 22nd of October, she did issue a statement that she was responsible for the death. Between then and the 31st of October she conducted an interview with the investigators that satisfied the prosecution. She did so without leaving the US: the interview was conducted by British policemen who had flown to the US only for this purpose. They could not arrest anyone there - they had no police power in the US.

Pre Trial Motions & Requests for Extradition

The trial was announced in December 2019, and Anne Sacoolas announced to not return to the UK willingly. Extradition requests for her were denied in January 2020.

In June 2020 preliminary hearings started to establish if she was covered by diplomatic immunity. The high court ruled on that on 24th of November 2020, concluding she was covered by diplomatic immunity. The judges used the words:

V Ground 1: Immunity


  1. Our conclusion is that Mrs Sacoolas enjoyed immunity from UK criminal jurisdiction at the time of Harry’s death. We do not come to this conclusion with any enthusiasm for the result, but it is compelled by the operation of the VCDR. [ Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations]


VIII. Conclusion

  1. Permission to apply for judicial review in relation to Grounds 2 and 3 is refused on the basis that they are not arguable.

  2. We grant permission to apply for judicial review in relation to Ground 1, but dismiss the claim.

In January 2021, there was another extradition request, which likewise was denied with the words:

The United States government has declined the United Kingdom's request for extradition of a US citizen involved in a tragic vehicle accident that occurred in the United Kingdom

Our decision in that regard was final.

At the time the accident occurred, and for the duration of her stay in the UK, the US citizen driver in this case had immunity from criminal jurisdiction.

Wrongful Death Case in Virginia

A separate case for Wrongful death was filed in Virginia in September 2020, and hearings started in February 2021. The Virginia court found, on 16th of February 2021, that the Dunns could sue Sacoolas for damages in Virginia. This case ended with some sort of agreement out of court in September 2021, without details known.

Criminal Trial

The UK criminal case seems to have dragged on even with the High Court finding Diplomatic Immunity. How this happened, I could not figure out, but the trial was held.

On the 13th of December 2021, the Crown prosecution announced that the trial would start on the 18th of January 2022 with the accused appearing via video call. She wasn't arrested or had to post bail. The court date was delayed till the 29th of September 2022, and she attended via video link, as ordered.

The next scheduled date was in October. For this hearing, she was ordered to either appear in person or request to appear via video link. This request seems to have happened and it appears that she delivered her Guilty Plea via video link on the 20th of October 2022.

Sentencing only would happen on the 6th of December. Sacoolas again requested timely to appear via video link to this hearing, like in any session before. This request was granted. Or to quote the court:

The application made jointly by the prosecution and defence for Ms Sacoolas to participate and be sentenced by live link has been renewed.

She did attend via this video link. As she did appear 'by live link' as requested and granted, there could not be a contempt of court for not appearing. As she appeared to all court meetings via the requested and granted live link, characterizing her as skipping bail is not just evidence of bad and ill intent, but also plainly wrong: She did appear for court, as ordered, and thus did neither contempt the court nor skip bail.

In fact, the Sentencing Remarks says exactly that, pointing out how it came to be that she was allowed so:

  1. Changes in the law wrought to Part 8 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 granted powers to the criminal courts to permit a person to take part in criminal proceedings through a live-link. The Chief Magistrate granted a live-link order and you appeared before Westminster Magistrates Court on 29 September 2022. Your case was sent to the Central Criminal Court.

  2. By participating by video-link at Westminster Magistrates you surrendered to the court. When your case was sent for trial to the Central Criminal Court by the Senior Magistrate on you were given unconditional bail. Surrender to this court was accomplished when you were identified as being present, again by video-link on 20 October 2022. You were arraigned and pleaded guilty to a lesser offence, that of Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving contrary to s.2B of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The court granted a live-link for your arraignment because in my judgment it was in the public interest for you to be able to enter your plea and it would not defeat the interests of justice if that was accomplished by you participating through a video link.

  3. At no point in these criminal proceedings had it been suggested that you were not free and able to travel to this jurisdiction in person. Once you had pleaded guilty and were therefore a convicted offender there could be little reason in a case where a young man had met his death, for you not to be required to attend at court for sentence. Your bail was not withdrawn and you were released from the court but directed to attend in person for this sentencing hearing. I directed you to attend and observed that attendance in person would be strong evidence of remorse.

  4. For the purpose of s.6(1) Bail Act 1976 you had a duty to surrender to the court. Failure of a defendant in a criminal case to attend in person when directed to do so, without reasonable cause, is an offence contrary to the Bail Act. It has the potential to affect the court’s ability to administer justice by damaging the confidence of victims, witnesses and the public more generally in the effectiveness of the court system. Judges have to consider taking appropriate action if there is no sufficient justification for a failure to attend. The usual action is to issue a bench warrant not backed for bail which will result in the arrest of the defendant when they are located.

  5. Sentence was due to take place on 1 December. A week before that date, on 24 November, the court received a renewal of the application for you appear by a live link. This included reference to harassment and threats you and your family had received, mainly by social media and many emanating from the USA, and an assessment that this gave rise to a risk to your personal safety if you travelled to the UK. It did not include any reference to a barrier imposed by the government authorities to your travelling to London to face sentence in person. As a consequence of what the court had received I asked the prosecution to provide a response to the material submitted. Very swiftly, by 28 November the Northamptonshire police compiled an operation which set out in detail four plans by means of which your safety could be protected if you were to return to the jurisdiction to be sentenced.

  6. Accordingly, I maintained my order that the hearing be in person. However a request was made on your behalf for a delay of a week to obtain further evidence. This was allowed. On Friday 2 December a statement was served from Amy Jeffries your attorney who accompanies you today. I granted the application [to appear via video link] on Monday 5 December. The reasons were that for the first time in these criminal proceedings a barrier to your attendance emanating from the American government was relied on in support of the application. In her statement Ms Jeffries says, “The U.S. government does not in any way support Mrs Sacoolas’s appearing in person at this hearing. In fact, Mrs Sacoolas’ US Government employer has advised her not to return to the United Kingdom in person for this hearing because her return could place significant U.S. interests at risk. This advice was communicated to her by her employer on 30 November and she is not at liberty to disclose the communication itself or any further information to the court.”

  7. By s.51(3) of the CJA 2003, as amended by s.200 of the PCSCA 2022 a sentencing hearing falls within the list of eligible criminal proceedings for which the court has the power to make such a direction pursual to s.51 (1). The power may be exercised in respect of a person who is outside the jurisdiction of England and Wales. But the power is subject to s.51(4)(a) which requires that the court is satisfied, among other things, that it is in the interests of justice to make the direction.


  1. The alternatives would have been to withdraw your bail if you had not attended today. The result would have been a warrant for your arrest which would have been extant until executed or withdrawn. The issuing of a warrant for your arrest would have been close to an empty gesture and it would stall progress in this case. Another option open to the court would have been to conduct sentence in your absence as you are represented by counsel and the court has material upon which to proceed. It would have been perverse to refuse this video link in those circumstances and on 5 December I granted the application, which remained a joint one by the defence and prosecution.
  • 1
    If I remember correctly, it turned out that the immunity was based on a special UK/US aggreement (similar to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA): NATO - Official text: Agreement between the Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty regarding the Status of their Forces, 19-Jun.-1951) that did not cover dependents clearly and has been now been amended. Sep 25 at 21:23
  • @MarkJohnson indeed. OR rather should not have covered dependents. Gosh, in looking this all up, finding that sentencing document and the high court judgement was a PITA. More on the specifics why she was deemed to have immunity would be in V Ground 1 of the High court document. Interestingly, the judgement did note in... 27: " In particular, you were not compelled to submit yourself to this charge and these proceedings but have chosen to do so. " - I am not sure, but she might have voluntarily participated in the trial.
    – Trish
    Sep 25 at 21:28

"Her excuse was that her employer had instructed her to do this": this is a seriously deficient description of the situation, apparently either misguided or willfully disingenuous. Her "employer" was a foreign sovereign nation and she was present in the UK with diplomatic immunity (apparently because of her spouse rather than in her own right, but regardless she was immune).

I don't know the details of the procedural development of this specific case, but the normal course of affairs would be for the FCO to inform the court or the prosecutor that the accused is immune from prosecution, whereafter the court might decline to issue a warrant, or, if it did, the warrant would be unenforceable until the accused's diplomatic immunity lapsed, which normally happens on departure from the country. Which in turn makes it difficult to enforce the warrant.

So in fact it's possible that there were such proceedings as you're asking about, but if so they would have had very little effect. In reality, the matter passed fairly quickly to the diplomatic realm and essentially out of the hands of the court and prosecutor except to the extent to which the US Department of State agreed to submit the accused to the jurisdiction of the court. By that time, too, the matter was beyond bench warrants because there was a negotiated voluntary appearance, the terms having been agreed upon at a higher level than the prosecutor, the accused, and the judge.

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