The Garda Commissioner and State have failed to overturn an award of €7,500 compensatory damages made to an asylum seeker over being unlawfully detained for 26 days.
The three judge Court of Appeal dismissed the appellants core argument that an unlawfully detained person can be refused compensatory damages if it can be shown, had they not been unlawfully detained, they could and would have been lawfully detained.
Such an account of the law misinterprets the elements of the tort of false imprisonment and failed to afford sufficient weight to the importance of the constitutionally protected right to personal liberty, Mr Justice Brian Murray said.
He rejected arguments the Nigerian man was not entitled to compensatory damages because it was “inevitable” he would have been detained from August 1st 2011 had gardai been aware of necessary recitals to a detention order under section 5.2 of the Immigration Act 2004. The appellants said he should not get damages to compensate for a loss of liberty he would have suffered in any event.
Test for causation
Mr Justice Murray said Irish law has never recognised a “but for” test of causation in calculating damages in false imprisonment claims. Irish law did not contemplate a “bright line rule” precluding a person who could have been detained lawfully, when they were not, from obtaining, by reason of that fact alone, any award of general damages.
The constitutional right violated in cases such as this is the right not to be deprived of one’s liberty other than in accordance with law, he said. The appellants’ analysis on damages ignored a central feature of the breach, “its illegality”.
There was no reason to interfere with the High Court decision to take into account issues around the credibility of the man’s evidence and the impact of imprisonment on him in fixing the damages sum at €7,500, he further held.
The appellants had made out no basis to overturn the award and the man had made out no basis to increase it, he said.
He made the findings in a recent judgment, which clarifies the law concerning damages claims for false imprisonment, rejecting the Commissioner and State’s appeal over the High Court decision.
The man came here in 2008, initially claiming he was from Sierra Leone, and sought subsidiary protection after being refused asylum.
On August 1st 2011, while the subsidiary protection application was pending, he was arrested by gardai in Dundalk when travelling on a bus from Northern Ireland and was refused permission to land in the State due to, inter alia, not holding a valid passport or visa.
He was arrested under section 5.2 of the 2004 Act and detained pending arrangements for his removal from the State. The next day, he was released but immediately re-arrested and detained in Cloverhill Prison under a fresh detention order similar to the first one.
After the High Court ruled on August 9th 2011 his detention was lawful, he appealed to the Supreme Court. In the interim, his subsidiary protection application was refused.
On August 26th, at 12.40pm, the Supreme Court directed his release after finding his detention was unlawful because the warrant grounding it failed to record certain matters, including the reason for his arrest and detention. He was released at 3pm but was immediately rearrested and detained under another order containing the information the Supreme Court had said was necessary.
On August 30th, the High Court rejected his claim his latest detention was unlawful, but it held a delay of some 105 minutes in releasing him on August 26th was unlawful. He should have been released at 1.15pm rather than 3pm and was deprived, albeit inadvertently, of his right to liberty for those 105 minutes, it held.
He remained detained until released on September 22nd 2011. He took proceedings in 2013 seeking damages for false imprisonment and/or deprivation of his constitutional right to liberty.
The High Court ruled he was entitled to €7,500 compensatory damages for false imprisonment over the 26 days to August 26th 2011. It refused aggravated or exemplary damages for reasons including findings there was no oppressive conduct by gardai towards him.