A man who was wrongly imprisoned by a Judge in the Family Division of the High Court can proceed in his bid for damages.
The Court of Appeal has unanimously ruled in favour of the man, who has only been identified as ‘LL’. In an April 2014 judgement by Ms Justice Russell, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for contempt of court. However in June of the same year, this conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal and LL was immediately released.
Afterwards, LL decided to claim damages from the Lord Chancellor as the formal representative of the judiciary. He argued that his imprisonment had violated his human rights. Specifically, he said his right to “liberty and security” as set out by Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached.
In response, the Lord Chancellor’s office insisted LL could not hold them liable for damages because the only thing he was entitled to was an appeal against the original decision, which he had received. The man’s bid was originally heard by Mr Justice Foskett who dismissed it. He ruled that the Lord Chancellor could only be held liable if a Judge’s conduct amounted to “gross and obvious irregularity” and that Ms Justice Russell’s decision did not cross that threshold.
LL did not give up there and decided to appeal. Among other complaints, the man said Ms Justice Russell should have withdrawn from the trail “on the grounds of apparent pre-determination”. This meant that he believed the Judge had shown signs she had already made up her mind about the outcome of the case during previous hearings. LL also claimed the Judge had required him to give evidence instead of warning him that he did not have to.
Lord Justice Jackson said while he regretted “the need to make such a finding about any High Court judge” he had to declare that Ms Justice Russell’s errors in her decision did in fact amount to “gross and obvious irregularity”. Lady Justice King agreed with this assessment but added that she did not want “the outcome of this very unusual case to add to the burdens of the family judge or indeed, any judge”. Lord Justice Longmore also backed the decision, adding that he hoped this would be an “unrepeatable” case.
Read LL v The Lord Chancellor in full here.
Photo by Victor via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.