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A nibbling frenzy might be engendered by the case of Roberts v Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary, Times, 27 January 1999. The Court of Appeal discussed the situation which arose when a person, having once been arrested, and being entitled to have his detention reviewed under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), but the review failed to occur within the mandatory six hours. Was his detention in the absence of that review lawful?
The court gave an unusually simple and direct answer - "No". The arrest was lawful, but in the absence of a review by the appropriate Police Inspector within the six hour time limit set by the Act, at the end of that six hour period, the detention became unlawful. It continued to be unlawful until either the suspect was charged and released, or until his case was properly reviewed. The situation could be remedied. Here, the six hours expired at 5.25 am, and the Inspector reviewed and authorised his continued detention at 7.45 am. He was deemed to have been wrongfully imprisoned for that two and a bit hours period.
Lawyers and clients seeking to make the most of this, might take caution from the Court's other comments about the level of damages. Here, the defendant had been awarded £500.00 for that period of detention. The Police had not appealed that element, but the Court of Appeal said that had an appeal been undertaken they would have reduced it. Two circumstances affected this. First, the suspect had been asleep throughout most of the period of his unlawful detention. It made it no less wrongful imprisonment, but it did reduce the damages. The second factor was that the Judge was sure that had the review been carried out lawfully, the continued detention would have been authorised.
The law giveth and the law taketh away ?
By way of addendum: In an area not often litigated, a second case within a few days has clarified another murky area. In Director of Public Prosecutions v L (1 Feb 1999 The Times), the court held that a person who later turned out to have been unlawfully arrested, had nevertheless been properly 'authorised for detention' by the custody sergeant. He had no duty to enquire beyond the initial circumstances to identify a wrongful arrest. An arrest which later proved unlawful, because, in this case, the accusation of assault on a police officer had been unproved at court, did justify a custody officer authorising detention, because he was not required to have the power of prescience.
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