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HMRC internal manual

Diplomatic Privileges Manual

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HM Revenue & Customs
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Appendices: FCO guide on diplomatic bags

Diplomatic bags - FCO information sheet on use and control

Protocol Directorate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office presents its compliments to all Foreign and Commonwealth diplomatic missions in London and has the honour to remind them that in order to qualify for the privilege described in Article 27.3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it is essential for diplomatic bags to bear visible external marks of their character.

Consistent with general international practice the marks required are:

(1) A seal in wax, metal or plastic affixed by the competent authority of the sending State or of the sending diplomatic mission; and

(2) A tag or stick-on label, addressed to the Head of the Mission, to the Head of a Consular post, or to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and carrying the official stamp of the sending state or the sending diplomatic mission.

In addition, where a bag is in the custody of a diplomatic courier, the courier must carry an official document indicating his status (such as a special courier’s passport) and a document officially issued by the sending authority and identifying the number of packages constituting the diplomatic bag.

Where a bag is in the custody of the captain of an aircraft, he must carry a document officially issued by the sending authority and identifying the number of packages constituting the diplomatic bag.

The facilities provided under Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which allow a mission to take possession of the diplomatic bag directly and freely from the captain of the aircraft do not prevent the receiving State from ensuring that the requirements of Article 27 are complied with. Missions are reminded, therefore, that all incoming diplomatic bags must be presented to an officer of HM Revenue and Customs before removal from the place of importation. In the case of Heathrow Airport the packages should be presented:

  • at the HM Revenue and Customs Report Office (Airside of the Queen’s Building); or
  • at the Transit shed (by arrangement).

Missions are further reminded that in deciding whether particular articles may be carried in a diplomatic bag they are required to observe the requirements not only of Article 27.4 (“only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use”) but also of Article 41.1 (“laws and regulations of the receiving state”). It is particularly stressed in this context that the regulations governing the import and possession of firearms in the UK are among those which must be observed, regardless of any claim that any firearms may be intended for official use.

Protocol Directorate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office avails itself of this opportunity to express to all Foreign and Commonwealth diplomatic missions in London the assurance of its highest consideration.