Immunities or jurisdictional privileges provide persons or groups of persons some degree of protection against civil or criminal rules that do not apply to all citizens. However, immunities can also be used by public officials as a shield from liability for criminal offences, including corruption. For this reason, international bodies have been pushing, over the past two decades, for a set of legal standards to ensure that immunity does not translate into impunity. The international standards and best practice can be summarised in the following four recommendations promoted globally:
1) Reducing the range of officials provided immunity;
2) Reducing the scope of criminal offences for which immunity can be invoked;
3) Introducing clear guidelines and procedures for lifting immunities;
4) The specification of a time limit for the duration of legal protection.
This study tests empirically whether these legal standards are associated with better control of corruption in practice. The results show weak to no evidence that the set of international standards recommended to countries around the world are associated with better control of corruption. The only evidence of this association, albeit only significant at the 90% level of confidence, is that immunity provisions for MPs which are aligned with international standards are associated with lower levels of bribery. Furthermore, case studies from Greece and Belgium have shown that impunity can be countered without legal changes and that a practice of impunity can be observed even in countries that have robust legal frameworks.