Strip-search victims cannot sue Qatar Airways: Court

A case over strip searches can proceed against Doha's airport but not Qatar Airways, court ruled.

A case over strip searches can proceed against Doha's airport but not Qatar Airways, court ruled. Photo: ABC

Five women allegedly forced into invasive strip searches at Doha’s Hamad Airport will not be able to seek compensation from Qatar Airways.

But their case against the airport’s operator, a subsidiary of Qatar Airways, is still going ahead.

The five, who cannot be legally named, were among hundreds of women forcibly removed from aircraft at Doha on October 2, 2020, as officials searched for the mother of a newborn found in a bathroom at the terminal.

After being removed from the plane plane by armed guards, many said they were forced to undergo non-consensual gynaecological or intimate physical examinations.

One passenger was strip-searched while holding her five-month old son, a Federal Court lawsuit claimed.

Another, who was elderly and legally blind, was directed out of the aircraft but not subjected to a search.

Federal Court Justice John Halley on Wednesday found the women’s argument against Qatar Airways did not meet international airline liability protocols, which dictated people could only sue airlines within certain boundaries.

“My conclusion that the exclusivity principle precludes the applicants from pursuing any claim for damages against Qatar Airways is a complete answer to the claims that the applicants seek to bring against Qatar Airways,” Justice Halley said in published reasons.

The judge affirmed the women’s case against the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority also could not go ahead, given they were a separate entity of a foreign state.

However, he ruled the case against the Qatar Company for Airports Operation and Management (MATAR) – the operator of the Doha Airport – should still be on foot under an amended statement of claim.

MATAR is a wholly owned subsidiary of Qatar Airways.

“We are carefully reviewing the reasons given by the court and to the extent that there are grounds will consider all avenues for appeal,” the women’s lawyer, Damian Sturzaker of Marque Lawyers, said.

“We note, however, that the claims against the airport operator, MATAR remain on foot.

“Our clients’ resolve to continue to agitate their claims remains undiminished.”

The case is next due before the Federal Court on May 10.


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