Given that the organisation is paid generously by the British taxpayer to represent our interests, and to practise “soft diplomacy”, you wonder just how much it can get wrong. Here’s the case of a lass called Sharon who took the IELTS test through the British Council, which then failed to pass on her clearance to her selected universities as was their duty. So she took her case to her local consumer forum who recognised the justice of her case. The British Council compounded its earlier blunder by failing to show up, and in their absence the forum awarded Sharon 50,000 rupees (about £490.00). The British Council now found a way of making matters worse (and more expensive) by filing an appeal, claiming that they took Sharon’s complaint to be a legal notice – a stance which the Indian court described as “absurd”. But the Council still had one more card to play.
Much of the distress caused by this dreadful organisation derives from the fact that it is neither fish nor fowl. It presents itself as a government agency, a diplomatic body, but is really a government subsidized business, as so many of us know to our cost. On this occasion, in order to assert its self-assigned superiority to the Indian courts (not to mention poor Sharon), the British Council
“stated that being a division of the British High Commission in India, it enjoyed the status of a diplomatic mission, and thus could not be subjected to the court's jurisdiction.”
That’s the kind of line that probably went down well in Edwardian England and, no doubt, in the British Raj, but today the Indians can tell such people where to get off.
“The court responded that the council's plea was wrong, as no such document had been brought on record to show them being a division of the British High Commission, and thus they could not claim diplomatic immunity. It added that the British Council was a registered charitable trust, with the registration done according to Indian laws. Thus, after considering all the facts, the British Council's plea was rejected.”
So you can’t be a charity and a diplomatic mission at the same time, and the British need India to tell us this obvious fact. We should all, all of us, be happy about this judgement and hope that this truly absurd organisation will, post triennial review if not institutional lobotomy, start inhabiting the same world as the rest of us. And even if it can’t manage to convert into either an honest company or a true diplomatic body or a genuine charity, let’s hope that it can employ managers who show proper respect to the institutions of the country they are in, and who aren’t such bloody fools.
On top of the award of 50,000 rupees the British Council were stuck with a bill for 25,000 rupees in costs (presumably not including some rather heftier fees they were paying for their own legal representation). The Tribune version of the story are quite blunt - the BC were "guilty of providing deficient services" and their plea of diplomatic status was "palpably wrong". Let's hear it for soft diplomacy.