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Richard Cole acts for Ministry of Justice in claim for false imprisonment

An action of false imprisonment will not lie against the gaoler of a liberty, for detaining a prisoner committed to his custody, under a warrant from the bailiff, although the arrest was made out of the bailiff’s jurisdiction - Olliet v Bessey (1682) T Jones Report 214.

The law remains the same in 2016.

S v Ministry of Justice, QBD, Cardiff.

Richard Cole recently acted on behalf of the Ministry of Justice in respect of a claim brought by a prisoner previously held on remand at HMP Eastwood Park, Gloucestershire, issued in the High Court.

The Background

S was remanded into custody, having previously enjoyed bail, by a Circuit Judge sitting at the Crown Court at Cardiff during the course of criminal proceedings brought against her.  A warrant was issued by the Crown Court to the governor of Eastwood Park to hold the Defendant until she was next required before the Crown Court.  S was held at HMP Eastwood Park for 16 days pursuant to the warrant issued by the Crown Court. S brought judicial review proceedings in the High Court seeking to challenge the decision of the Crown Court judge. Mr Justice Wyn Williams considered that the Crown Court Judge had fallen into legal error and there was “an arguable case of illegality” on his part in remanding S into custody. S was ordered to be released from custody and was re-admitted to bail for the remainder of her criminal proceedings. The governor of Eastwood Park released S, that same day, on receiving the order from the High Court.

The Proceedings

S brought a claim against HMP Eastwood Park for detaining her without lawful justification.   

The Law

Section 2(5) of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 excludes proceedings against the Crown for acts done by any person “while discharging or purporting to discharge any responsibilities of a judicial nature...”   There was no cause of action against the Crown Court.

In Begraj v Secretary of State for Justice [2015] EWHC 250 (QB), the court noted that the purpose of Section 9(3) of the Human Rights Act 1998 was to preserve the Section 2(5) of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 position in the context of human rights damages claims.

False imprisonment is “the unlawful imposition of constraint on another’s freedom of movement from a particular place” – Collins v Wilcock [1984] 1 WLR 1172 at 1178.  The tort is established on proof of: 1. the fact of imprisonment; and 2. The absence of lawful authority to justify that imprisonment.

In R v Governor of Brockhill Prison Ex p. Evans (No 2) [2001] 2 AC 19, the House of Lords held that a prison governor who in good faith, and in reliance on the existing law, calculated the release date of a prisoner which subsequently turned out to have been 59 days late because the law had changed in the interim, was liable in false imprisonment for the additional days that the prisoner was detained. Liability was strict.  It was irrelevant that the governor had not been negligent and had acted in good faith in accordance with the law when the release date was calculated.

In Ex p. Evans Lord Hope analysed the judgments in Olliet v Bessey (1682) T Jones Report 214, Greaves v Keen (1879) and Henderson v Preston (1888) and Olutu v Home Office [1997]. The first three cases support the proposition that a gaoler is entitled to detain a person in reliance upon a court order until the order is set aside (that was even the case where it was later shown that the court’s order was made in error). Olutu was concerned with a person’s right to be released on bail on the order of the court after the expiry of the custody time limit.  It was held that, as an order of the court was required for the person’s release on bail, the governor was neither entitled nor bound to release the person until a court order had been made.  Lord Hope considered that those cases could not be used by analogy to apply to the position the governor found himself in Evans, whereby he was the person that was responsible for calculating the release date and the error lay with him and not the court. 

In Quinland v Governor of Belmarsh Prison [2002] EWCA Civ 174 the Court of Appeal considered Ex p Evans, distinguishing it, and relied upon the Court of Appeal decision in Olotu v Home Office [1997] 1 WLR 328.  Lord Bingham CJ said: “The Governor’s duty under Section 6(3)(a) of the Magistrates Courts Act 1980 and according to the direction given to him in the warrant was to hold the plaintiff until she should be delivered to the Crown Court in due course of law. He was never at any material time called upon to deliver the plaintiff to the Crown Court in due course of law, and could not lawfully take it upon himself to release the plaintiff....once the custody time limit had expired the plaintiff was in my view unlawfully detained, and an order which could have led to her release could have been obtained either from the Crown Court or from the Divisional Court; but it does not follow that in the absence of any such order the governor was guilty of falsely imprisoning the plaintiff and in my view he was neither entitled nor bound to release her”

In Quinland, the Claimant was caused to serve six weeks’ imprisonment more than he should have done. The error was on the part of the sentencing judge and not the prison.  The Court of Appeal distinguished Ex p Evans on the basis that the prison governor did not make any arithmetical or other error.

The Outcome

Richard advised that S’s case had no merit. The case was defended throughout and S eventually discontinued her claim a week before trial.

Richard was instructed by the Government Legal Department.