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£17,500 awarded for 40 days of unlawful detention during the pandemic


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In R (Abulbakr) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2022] EWHC 1183 (Admin), the High Court has ordered the Home Office to pay a detainee £17,500 for 40 days of unlawful detention caused by unreasonable delay in providing a release address. The figure is high for the length of detention concerned, given the lack of any “initial shock”, and represents a criticism of the department’s failures on bail accommodation and recognition of the hardship of being detained during the pandemic. It will be a useful figure for obtaining significant damages in similar cases.

This judgment is a follow-up to R (Abulbakr) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2020] EWHC 3905 (Admin) (not publicly available but can be found on Westlaw). In the substantive judgment, Mrs Justice Foster found that the claimant had been unlawfully detained for 40 days because of a failure to arrange release accommodation, which overlapped with a period during which there was no realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable time. The issue before the court in the new judgment was the appropriate amount of damages, as the parties had been unable to agree.

Foster J declined to award aggravated or exemplary damages as punishment for the errors which led to the delay in finding accommodation, concluding that:

I do not agree with the Claimant that this case is analogous to Muuse: it is a far less egregious example of executive failing, it consisted of a series of careless mistakes, a failure to check – on more than one occasion – the detail of this particular Claimant’s circumstances, and an unsatisfactory approach to the presumption of liberty.

However, when reaching an overall award of basic damages, the court awarded the claimant a relatively high amount, notwithstanding that there had been no “initial shock” of incarceration:

Taking these matters into account, and in light of the helpful updated figures by reference to earlier authorities in my judgement, as at today’s date, allowing for an element of current inflation, the appropriate award is £17,500 to represent all of the effects of the detention. This is a “global” basic award. I have notionally added to a foundation figure of £15,500, an uplift of £2,000 to reflect both the extra time in prison, rather than administrative detention, and COVID circumstances, with more emphasis upon the latter.

Although the claimant failed to obtain aggravated or exemplary damages, the overall result is excellent given that he was lawfully detained for a significant period and his detention had become lawful again by the time the court reached its substantive judgment.

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Alex Schymyck

Alex is a barrister at Garden Court Chambers