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Bostridge v Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust [2015] – Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal confirmed that where there is no loss as a consequence of unlawful detention, damages for false imprisonment will be nominal.

Bostridge v Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust [2015] – Court of Appeal

Summary

The Court of Appeal confirmed that where there is no loss as a consequence of unlawful detention, damages for false imprisonment will be nominal.

Background

The claimant/appellant was detained for 442 days. The defendant admitted the detention was unlawful and constituted both false imprisonment and a breach of Article 5; however, it was also accepted firstly that the claimant would have been detained in exactly the same way had the Mental Health Act 1983 (the Act) been complied with and secondly that the claimant had suffered no loss. The judge held that where there is no loss, damages will be nominal (he anticipated £1.00). The claimant’s primary case on appeal was that this principle was only sound in cases where the defendant itself had the power to detain (as in Lumba v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] UKSC). By contrast, the Trust was dependent on lawful compliance with the Act and the actions of third parties (medical practitioners) such that the same principles did not apply.

Court of Appeal

The appeal was dismissed. In assessing damages for false imprisonment the court will seek to put the claimant in the position he would have been in had the tort not been committed; if it is the case that the claimant would have been in exactly the same position “he will not normally be entitled to anything more than nominal damages. The identity of the route by which this same result might have been achieved is unlikely to be significant” (per LJ Vos, para 20). Vindicatory damages are not appropriate in a case of this kind and the cases where significant sums have been awarded were explained on the basis that the claimants had suffered loss. Similarly, there was no basis for anything more than nominal damages by way of just satisfaction for breach of article 5.

Comment

A claimant does not need to establish loss or damage in order to successfully establish false imprisonment or a breach of article 5; it is not a defence to say the same decision to detain could and would have been made. This highlights the importance of this judgment. If more than nominal damages were available in a case of this type then the potential expense to public bodies would be enormous. It follows that cases involving purely ‘procedural’ failings (and no actual loss) may lend themselves to early admissions of liability such that further litigation relating solely to quantum is futile and costs generally can be minimised.

For further information about Weightmans LLP or to discuss any of the issues in this update, please contact Peter Wake or Morris Hill in the Local Government Team (0345 073 9900; peter.wake@weightmans.com morris.hill@weightmans.com)