It’s imperative that prisoners should not be deterred from claiming compensation arising from sentence miscalculation notwithstanding tactics employed by the MOJ’s solicitors at the Government Legal Department. In my experience, errors can frequently be made, leading to people spending days longer in custody that they should do. Whilst it is right that those who have committed offences should ‘serve their time’. It is equally right that once that time is up, their liberty be restored to them.
The MOJ are now as a matter of policy arguing that sentence miscalculation claims should be allocated to the small claims track of the County Court.
The small claims track is intended to provide a proportionate procedure by which straightforward claims of not more than £10,000 in value can be decided and where legal fees are not recoverable. This then effectively prevents a private individual from instructing a lawyer, as they will not be able to recover the cost of the lawyer’s fees even if they are successful. Legal Aid is also unavailable.
Allocation to the small claims Court represents a massive cost saving for the MOJ; not only do they avoid paying legal fees but the policy has a deflationary effect upon damages recovered in that Claimants will be put off making a claim because they will have to do so without a lawyer, it encourages Claimants to undervalue their claims and accept offers that are too low and therefore significantly affects access to justice for what is a wrongdoing of clear constitutional importance. Meanwhile, with the Claimant ‘at their mercy’ as a party without legal representation, the MOJ itself has all the financial and professional resources of a government department and will of course send its own team of lawyers from the GLD to Court, irrespective of the cost.
The MOJ’s central argument is that a person imprisoned without lawful authority is entitled to compensation irrespective of any question of fault. On that basis, the MOJ argues that such claims are not complicated and don’t require legal representation. The MOJ relies on the Evans (No.2)  Q.B. 1043 decision which suggested a daily rate for false imprisonment at just under £100 back in 1989 (albeit now updated for inflation). However, there is a wide range of other cases which suggest that damages in such cases should be counted in not merely hundreds, but thousands of pounds.
The MOJ argument fails to take into consideration that there is a second element to an award of damages for false imprisonment, that of injury to feelings.
In most claims for sentence miscalculation, the individual Claimant knows full well that he is being wrongly detained and his protests to prison staff are often neglected or ignored. Often this state of knowledge or level of mental suffering is disputed and it’s in these cases that legal representation is crucial; to make these arguments, to challenge the MOJ in cross examination and to ensure a fair award of compensation by reference to extensive case law.
In a recent case for sentence miscalculation that I handled, the MOJ disputed the Claimant’s state of knowledge/efforts to complain by relying upon a 42 page rebuttal statement from a prison official with 8 exhibits spread over 37 pages (which included the Claimant’s external movements, custodial warrant, transfer report, email correspondence, phone record, complaint history, cell history and release paperwork), sought to call that witness by video link and instructed specialist London Counsel who in advance of the final hearing served a 12 page Skeleton Argument and a 309 page Authority Bundle comprising 11 different judicial decisions.
Prisoners who have suffered false imprisonment by sentence miscalculation should push for the maximum level of compensation that they are entitled to utilising specialist solicitors and not being cowed by MOJ tactics.
A wide range of damages are awardable in false imprisonment claims, dependent on a number of evidential factors, relevant case law and the arguments advanced by the lawyers for each party. The MOJ know full well that those Claimants who are represented by solicitors get more money, hence their cynical policy of trying to push these claims into the Small Claims Court, so as to deprive Claimants of legal representation. I know how to defeat these tactics and ensure that my clients get the maximum compensation available.