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Home Office ordered to pay £20,000 for 60 days’ false imprisonment
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In Oluponle v Home Office  EWHC 3188 (KB), the claimant was awarded £20,000 for 60 days’ false imprisonment. Several helpful comments were made on various Home Office failings during the detention process.
The claimant was a Nigerian national who had been caught trying to fly to Ireland using a fake passport in a different identity in 2006. He was convicted of false document offences and given a twelve month sentence. The Home Office initiated deportation action and detained the claimant for a month at the end of his sentence, before he was released on bail. The claimant then absconded and later obtained leave to remain using a different identity. In 2013, the claimant decided to reveal his true identity to the Home Office and applied to revoke his deportation. This led to a human rights appeal which failed.
On 4 May 2016, at a routine reporting event, the Home Office detained the claimant. The claimant was due to be removed on 24 May 2016 but he made an asylum claim on that day and removal directions were deferred. The Home Office decided to maintain detention to detain on the basis that the asylum claim could be dealt with and the claimant removed within three months. The court agreed that was a realistic assessment at the time.
Thereafter, things started to go wrong for the Home Office. An asylum interview took place on 7 July 2016. It was a poor quality interview. In a note made on 10 August 2016, a Home Office official noted that even though he considered the asylum claim to be weak, he thought the interview was not sufficient to support a decision to certify the claim under section 96 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. However, the Home Office proceeded to make the section 96 certification decision and detained the claimant until 25 October 2016.
The false imprisonment decision
The Court concluded that the decision to certify was unlawful and that the Home Office should have made an asylum decision by 22 August 2016. If it had done this, then the detention review on 23 August 2016 should have identified that the subsequent appeal would need to be expedited, which would have taken a further week to 30 August 2016. Thereafter, it should taken the Home Office three days to release the claimant, so detention became unlawful on 3 September 2016.
Caspar Glyn KC, siting as a deputy High Court judge, concluded that:
In my view the appropriate sum of damages for Mr Oluponle’s continued detention for 60 days is £20,000. The effect on him was serious, the conditions appalling and he told me of the long-lasting effects on him. However, there is no evidence to support any personal injury to him.
The judgment is helpful in a number of respects.
First, the judge rejected in strong terms the usual Home Office submission that detention remains lawful while the Home Office wait to see if someone will appeal:
I reject Mr Howarth’s submission that inquiries as to the time required for an appeal against the decision should await an appeal by the claimant, as the claimant might not appeal and therefore would simply be removed. On the facts of this case that is an unworldly submission. This claimant exercised all his rights on each occasion as he was entitled so to do.
Second, the judge took a robust approach to applying the Hardial Singh principles. It is common for the Home Office to try to detain people who make a late asylum claim for the duration of their appeal. In this case the judge was clear that once the claimant was granted a right of appeal it was incumbent upon the Home Office to demonstrate a prospect of the appeal being expedited in order to maintain detention.
Finally, this case will be a useful benchmark for assessing quantum. Many people are unlawfully detained for similar periods of time after an initial period of lawful detention. There are some exceptional features in this case, in particular the claimant’s unchallenged evidence that he was subjected to racial abuse and ‘manhandled’. The award could have been more generous, although the judge noted that the claimant had not provided any medical evidence to support his claim for damages.