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QATAR AIRWAYS: Escapes Australian lawsuit by strip-searched women

QATAR AIRWAYS: Escapes Australian lawsuit by strip-searched women

Justice John Halley of the Federal Court has dismissed the invasive search case brought by five women against Qatar Airways. The lawsuit was launched in 2022, seeking damages for the alleged non-consensual intimate searches. And also for false imprisonment and their consequential mental health impacts.

The strip searching of female passengers by Qatari authorities in 2020 sparked public outrage internationally.

a plane in a hangar
Launch customer for Airbus A350, and major disputer [Qatar Airways/Airbus]

Qatar Airways off the hook

Qatar Airways has dodged an Australian-based lawsuit over the incident at Doha Airport. It is alleged the women were forceably removed from aircraft by armed guards and subject to intimate non-consensual searches.

I have previously posted on these forced intimate search of Australian women who were on a Qatar Airways flight back in 2020. The searches were conducted as a result of a newborn baby found abandoned in a bathroom of the Doha Airport, so this is an update on where legal action stands.

The Australian women represented by Marque Lawyers are sueing Qatar Airways, the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) and MATAR, the arm of the Qatar government that runs the airport

a seat with a pillow and a table in the middle of the seat
Qatar Airways business class A380 2021 [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

Montreal Convention

One of the most important rules in avaition is embodied in the Montreal Convention. This multilateral treaty defines airline liability in the event of passenger death or injury. The judge found that the airline’s staff could not have influenced Qatari police actions. That includes the removal of the women from the flight, nor the examinations in ambulances on the darmac by nurses.

That proposition “can fairly be characterised as ‘fanciful, trifling, implausible, improbable, tenuous'”, the judgment said.

That’s judicial speak for a total ‘longshot’!

Justice John Halley also found that the QCAA were immune from foreign prosecution.

Who they can sue

That just leaves a potential suit against the third party airport operator MATAR. The judge granted leave to re-plead the women’s claim, however the claim is limited – applying only to the conduct of the airoprt staff. The women will also be able to plead that MATAR owed them a duty of care to prevent the non-MATAR employed nurses, from conducting the searches.

Badr Mohammed Al-Meer, new head of Qatar Airways [Qatar Airways]
Badr Mohammed Al-Meer, new head of Qatar Airways [Qatar Airways]

2PAXfly Takeout

There is no doubt that what happened to these women – non-consensual strip-searches – is unacceptible. Deploying the Australian legal system towards a foreign government for just compensation and admissions of guilt may turn out to be a longshot. If it is, better international law instruments need to be developed so that those behaving badly in instances like this can be held responsible.

Qatar Airways has successfullly dodged this particular legal bullet.

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