Inmate accidentally detained for an extra 33 days wins right to $11,000 in damages

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By Natalie Akoorie from

prison generic, hands in prison cell

File photo.
Photo: 123RF

An inmate who was accidentally detained for an extra 33 days has won $11,000 in damages.

Koro Putua was sentenced to four years and six months in prison on 16 charges, including burglary, illegally carrying firearms, receiving, theft and possession of cannabis.

But when preparing the warrant for Putua’s commitment in September 2016, the District Court’s deputy clerk erroneously noted that a three-month jail term for one charge was cumulative rather than concurrent with the sentence for another charge.

It meant adding three months to Putua’s general sentence when it shouldn’t have been and the mistake was signed off by the sentencing judge who failed to notice, according to a decision by Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Ellis.

Putua said he told Northland Regional Correctional Facility staff about the mistake on his arrival there and claimed his release date should be November 11, 2020, but he was not released at the time.

Finally, on December 14 of that year, a civil registry officer drafted a corrected order, which the examining magistrate subsequently signed.

Putua was released that day, having spent 33 days in jail more than he should have.

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In March of this year, Putua filed his claim for $11,000 in damages, known as Baigent damages, in the Supreme Court.

The Crown accepted that Putua was unlawfully and arbitrarily detained during those 33 days in violation of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

However, it argued that the Court lacked jurisdiction and no remedy was available, as the error was a judicial error.

The Crown said that because the Registrar’s decision had been “replaced” by the judge who signed the Compulsory Order, there was no right to compensation.

In her decision on the case released earlier this month, Judge Ellis said that, as was the law, it was correct that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear a claim for damages arising out of a judicial act, such as the signature of the warrant by the examining magistrate.

However, she said the position was less clear due to the deputy clerk’s mistake.

Justice Ellis considered whether the deputy clerk was essentially serving a judicial position, conferring judicial immunity, or if not, whether the error was replaced by the judge.

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She said the deputy clerk’s act in preparing the pledge warrant cannot be considered a judicial one.

“It was not a task that required discretion or judgment. The drafting of the warrant is mandatory and its content is predetermined.

“The registrar is simply obliged to place an order from a [identified] judge in court, the date and the powers under which it was created.”

She said there was no underlying judicial error and there was no doubt that it was the deputy clerk’s error.

To justify judicial immunity was to protect the integrity of the judicial process, Judge Ellis wrote.

“It does this by avoiding the risk of collateral attack and re-challenge of judges’ decisions, and that judges are subjected in their decision-making processes to the weight of undue pressure from potential legal liability for their judicial actions.”

It was difficult to see how such cases applied to administrative actions by registrars, however closely they might be related to legal proceedings, Justice Ellis said.

She said a registry office had no choice but to issue a warrant, they were not public figures like judges and it was difficult to see how the general public would have a real interest in appointing or appointing a civil servant. shame those who have done little. more than a typo.

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“For these reasons, I conclude that the Deputy Registrar’s error here was an administrative act not protected by judicial immunity.”

She also did not view the judge’s signature as a substitute cause that effectively immunized the Crown from liability for the Deputy Registrar’s error.

Ellis said the clerk’s error in drafting the warrant was a “substantial and operational cause” of his unlawful detention, and she did not find Putua’s claim for violation of section 22 of the Bill of Rights barred by judicial immunity.

She assessed his right to damages under the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005, finding that he was entitled to $11,000 plus interest.

The money is first paid to the Attorney General, where a victim of the offense has the right to file a claim against it.

– This story was first published on the NZ Herald website.