Part of Scottish city to become international territory for two weeks - and local laws won't apply

Protesters from climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion Scotland, seen here demonstrating against fossil fuel extraction at Shell HQ in Aberdeen, have confirmed they will target the UN Cop26 summit in Glasgow
Protesters from climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion Scotland, seen here demonstrating against fossil fuel extraction at Shell HQ in Aberdeen, have confirmed they will target the UN Cop26 summit in Glasgow
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A tiny part of Scotland will become international territory for two weeks in November when the UK plays hosts to a major global climate summit.

Glasgow has been chosen as the venue for the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will bring heads of state from around the world to discuss global action on climate change.

This will see the Scottish Events Campus, in the city’s Finnieston area, handed over to the United Nations (UN) for the duration of the event.

Local laws will not apply within the boundaries of the conference site, which will be known as the Blue Zone.

Instead international protocols will be in force, meaning anyone committing an offence within the zone cannot be prosecuted in the Scottish or UK courts.

COP26 has been described as the most important global gathering on climate change since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015.

Environmentalists have said the event will allow the UK to help set the tone for the planet's future.

The two-week event will be the largest summit the nation has ever hosted, with up to 200 world leaders expected for the final weekend of talks and around 30,000 delegates in total.

As many as 15,000 people could attend on the busiest days, including spectators, media and protesters, with up to 90,000 individuals anticipated over the course of the conference.

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A report due to be presented to the Scottish Police Authority today sets out security issues facing the national force during COP26, with costs expected to reach “several hundred million pounds”.

Under legal implications, it states: “The Conference centre is handed over to the United Nations (UN) on Friday 06 November until the end of the conference.

“During that time the UN retain control of the site (known as the Blue Zone), which will become international territory and fall under international law.

“Discussions are ongoing with senior law officers and the UN to determine how Police Scotland will record and investigate any crimes which occur within the Blue Zone.”

The legal concept applying to the UN is known as extraterritoriality, which can cover a person or physical area and exempts them from local law.

Extraterritoriality applies to the UN generally, and is the same principle that covers foreign diplomats working in the UK.

Natasha Durkin, a senior associate in the public law and regulation team at Shepherd and Wedderburn, said: “For the duration of COP26 Scots law will not apply to buildings and land occupied by the United Nations.

“In Glasgow the Blue Zone will become an international territory subject to international law, in the same way that the UN headquarters in New York and its offices in Geneva and Vienna are not subject to domestic law.

“The UN will have administrative control of the Scottish Events Campus and will be responsible for security during COP26.

"While its security team will be supported by Police Scotland, the UN will remain in charge of all security in the Blue Zone.

"Police Scotland may only enter this zone with the consent of, and under the conditions agreed to by, the UN secretary general."

As part of the arrangements, the UN agrees not to harbour fugitives.

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Ms Durkin added: “Extraterritoriality, or inviolability, also applies to diplomatic buildings such as embassies that cannot be entered without consent, and foreign diplomats with immunity, who are not British citizens, meaning that, in theory, they cannot be arrested or prosecuted for any crime in the UK.”

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “We have engaged with the United Nations and this is common practice for UN Conferences.

“In consultation with others, we will continue to develop a policing plan taking into account all factors to ensure an appropriate response can be delivered.”

It’s likely the Glasgow summit will attract many protesters, as has been the case at previous Cop meetings in other countries.

Activists from the climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion Scotland have confirmed they will have a presence at the event but have not yet finalised their action plan.

READ MORE: Security at Glasgow climate summit set to cost 'several hundred million pounds'
A feature of extraterritoriality that the UN is keen to stress relates to freedom of speech, which some delegates may not have within their own countries.

Since the organisation is in complete control of the Blue Zone, it means “conference participants can say what they want to say, including being critical of their governments”.