The former king of Spain Juan Carlos I faces a civil claim at the High Court in London over allegations he caused an ex-lover “great mental pain” by spying on and harassing her, after he lost a bid for immunity.
Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, a Danish businesswoman, is seeking damages for personal injury over the ex-king’s alleged actions.
Juan Carlos I, 84, who ruled from 1975 until his abdication in June 2014 and the succession of his son King Felipe VI, denies any wrongdoing.
At a High Court hearing in December, his lawyers argued that the ex-monarch was “entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of the English courts in his capacity as a senior member of the Spanish royal family.”
But in a ruling issued on Thursday, Justice Nicklin rejected his bid for immunity, allowing the claim against the former king to go ahead.
The judge, whose ruling focused on the issue of immunity only, said he rejected an argument that despite his abdication Juan Carlos remained a “sovereign” and was entitled to personal immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978.
“There is only one King of Spain and head of state of Spain and, since 19 June 2014, that has been his son, King Felipe VI,” the judge said.
“Whatever his special constitutional position following abdication, [Juan Carlos] is neither the sovereign nor the head of state of Spain.”
'Not a member of the king's house'
The judge also said Juan Carlos was not a member of the current King’s household within the meaning of the Act.
He said his position under the Spanish constitution was “entirely honorary” and provided him “no continuing role.”
“As matters stand presently, and since his retirement from public life, [Juan Carlos] has discharged no public functions in support of the royal family or Spanish state, and he has lived in the United Arab Emirates since August 2020.”
Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn’s lawyer, Robin Rathmell, said the ruling demonstrated the ex-king “cannot hide behind position, power, or privilege to avoid this claim.”
'Facts to be brought before the court'
The lawyer added that Juan Carlos “will now be answerable to an English court for his actions as a private individual”, adding: “This is the first step on the road to justice; the appalling facts of this case will finally be brought before the court.”
The ex-King and the Danish businesswoman were in a relationship between 2004 and 2009, with zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn claiming he asked her to marry him before it ended.
According to her claim, after their break-up, the pair remained close friends for a period, with Juan Carlos allegedly giving her “artwork, jewellery and financial gifts”, including payments amounting to around 65 million euros (£55 million) in June 2012.
In court documents, she said the former king sought to rekindle their relationship, but this was declined, with Juan Carlos then allegedly pursuing a “pattern of conduct amounting to harassment.”