High Court rules on damages for false imprisonment in detention case against Home Office

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3188 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the High Court case of Rapheael Olufemi Oluponle v The Home Office, Mr. Caspar Glyn KC, acting as Deputy Judge of the High Court, delivered a judgment concerning a claim for damages for false imprisonment following the claimant’s detention by the defendant, the Home Office. The claim centred on the lawfulness of the claimant’s detention, his entitlement to damages, and the principles governing the exercise of the power to detain individuals pending deportation under UK immigration law.

Key Facts

The claimant, Mr. Oluponle, a Nigerian national, was detained from May 4, 2016, to November 2, 2016, a total of 182 days. He brought a claim against the Home Office alleging that his detention was unlawful and amounted to false imprisonment, citing breaches of the Hardial Singh principles and improper application of the defendant’s policies, including a wrongful certification of his asylum claim under section 96(1) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

The Home Office detained Mr. Oluponle based on the expectation of his removal from the UK, a prediction that was subsequently delayed due to his late presentation of an asylum claim and the Home Office’s processing of that claim. The claimant’s past failure to report for removal, use of a false name, and his criminal record for passport fraud underpinned the Home Office’s assessment of him as a high risk of absconding and medium risk of re-offending.

False Imprisonment and Hardial Singh Principles

The court reaffirmed that the claim of false imprisonment invokes a scrutiny of whether the detention had lawful authority. The Hardial Singh principles govern the lawfulness of detention pending deportation, ensuring:

  1. The intention to deport the detainee and the use of detention exclusively for this purpose.
  2. Detention should only persist for a reasonable period in the circumstances.
  3. If it becomes apparent the deportation cannot be effected within the reasonable period, detention should be discontinued.
  4. The Secretary of State should act with reasonable diligence and expedition to effect removal.

Risk Factors and Claimant’s Conduct

Risk of absconding and the risk of re-offending emerged as paramount factors in the assessment of the reasonableness of detention. The court weighed these against the claimant’s compliance with reporting conditions over three years and his establishment of family life in the UK.

Effect of Asylum Claims and Certification

The timing and administrative handling of asylum claims, particularly their potential certification which restricts appeal rights, influenced the reasonableness of detention duration. An erroneously certified claim or a poorly conducted interview can change the expected timeframe of removal.

Conduct of the Defendant

The judicial examination included whether the defendant acted with reasonable diligence and if significant errors in handling the claim, such as wrongful certification, were apparent and relevant to the decision to detain.

Outcomes

The judgment found that:

  1. The initial detention up until September 3, 2016, was lawful, predicated on the prospect of imminent deportation and justified by the risk factors associated with the claimant.
  2. Post-September 3, 2016, detention became unlawful due to the expected prolonged duration before removal became realistic, primarily due to an unanticipated delay in processing the asylum claim and the untenable certification under section 96(1).
  3. The claimant was awarded £20,000 in compensatory damages for the 60 days of unlawful detention, which accounted for the severity of the deprivations experienced. The court did not award aggravated damages, finding no evidence that the defendant’s conduct was high-handed or malicious.

Conclusion

In Rapheael Olufemi Oluponle v The Home Office, the court meticulously applied the Hardial Singh principles and scrutinized the defendant’s conduct in the detention process. The case underscores the critical importance of having clear frameworks to lawfully justify detention and the need for the Home Office to exercise its powers with diligence and attention to individual circumstances. The outcome serves as a reminder of the importance of timely and correct application of policies and legal requirements surrounding detention and removal from the UK.

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