In my last blog, I wrote about how the police may become liable for false imprisonment if they do not comply with the detailed rules set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and specifically fail to comply with Section 37, i.e. the grounds upon which a suspect is held.
Another basis for how a perfectly lawful detention may become unlawful is where statutory reviews of detention are not undertaken.
PACE requires that a suspect’s detention should be reviewed at periodic intervals and consideration given as to whether continued detention is necessary to secure or preserve evidence relating to an offence for which he is under arrest or to obtain evidence by questioning him. If the review is not properly carried out, then the person’s continued detention from the time of the review will become unlawful. This is the case even if the police can argue that if the review had been carried out, further detention would have been authorised.
I recently had cause to argue this point in a claim against Avon & Somerset Constabulary for my client John Smith. Mr. Smith was arrested for the theft of a bag belonging to his ex-girlfriend. Although I am satisfied that he was wholly innocent, the Police had justifiable grounds to arrest and investigate based on reasonable suspicion.
The alleged theft occurred in Bath and John’s ex-girlfriend reported the incident to Avon & Somerset Constabulary.
By the time of his arrest, John was living at his parent’s house and at 21.45 one night he was arrested in Doncaster and taken to the local Police Station where he arrived at 22.25 and his detention authorised at 22.30.
At 02.40 early the next morning John was awoken and informed that two officers from Avon & Somerset Constabulary had come to collect him to take him to Bath Police Station to be interviewed.
Upon arrival at Bath Police Station, John’s detention was processed by the Custody Sergeant who authorised detention at 05.41 to enable evidence to e obtained by questioning.
At 11.35, John’s detention was reviewed by the Duty Inspector who authorised further detention to obtain evidence by questioning.
Later that morning John was interviewed, during which he denied the allegation. Eventually, at 14.45, John was informed that no further action was to be taken against him and he was released.
In accordance with section 40 of PACE 1984, prior to a person being charged, the first review of detention by an officer of at least the rank of Inspector should take place at no later than six hours after detention was first authorised. The second review should take place not later than nine hours after the first review and subsequent reviews at nine-hour intervals.
In Roberts v Chief Constable of Cheshire Police  1 WLR 662, the Court of Appeal upheld a finding of false imprisonment where there had been a failure to carry out a review of the Claimant’s detention in accordance with section 40 of PACE 1984, which rendered the period between when the review should have been carried out and when the review was actually carried out, a period of unlawful detention.
John’s detention was authorised at 22.30. In accordance with section 40 of PACE 1984, his detention ought to have been reviewed by an Inspector no later than 04.30. John left Doncaster Custody Suite at 02.25 and his detention was not reviewed when he was en route to Bath Custody Suite and although the Custody Sergeant authorised his continued detention at 05.41, an Inspector did not review his detention until 11.35. Applying the requirements of section 40 of PACE 1984 and the case of Roberts, this failure rendered John’s detention between 04.30 and 11.35 unlawful.
On that basis, John was unlawfully detained for nearly 8 hours.
I am pleased to confirm that once I had intimated a claim, Avon & Somerset agreed to compensate my client and he recovered £2,000.00 damages.
This sort of claim should not be thought of as the exploitation of a mere technicality or ‘loophole’. Rather it is another example of how the Civil Justice System in this country is used to ensure the proper functioning of the Criminal Justice System. Cases such as this, as the Court of Appeal was no doubt well aware in Roberts, serve as timely reminders for the Police not to overlook the obligations they have to those who they are holding prisoner against their will. It is right and proper that independent, experienced senior officers should review each and every person’s continued detention at regular intervals. To do otherwise would be to chip away at one of the pillars that supports the liberal democratic society that presumably we all wish to live in.