A High Court decision has overturned restrictions imposed as a result of government cuts as an attempt to deny access to Legal Aid to a woman suing the police for false imprisonment was defeated.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) are focused on reducing spending in the Courts. The recent decision, by Mr Justice Dingemans, will be the latest in a number of setbacks faced by the MoJ and the LAA. It was argued, by the LAA, that only in circumstances where it was clear that the officers had acted both unlawfully and maliciously in depriving an individual of their liberty should Legal Aid be provided. It has been the requirement of proof that officers intended to act illegally that has threatened to prevent cases being brought against forces by people who had been illegally detained or mistreated.

The original case was brought by Ms Sunita Sisangia, who was held at Wembley Police Station, London, after being arrested at her flat during a dawn raid on the grounds of harassment. She was held in police custody for over 13 hours before the police decided that the matter was in fact a civil dispute and that no crime had been committed. Ms Sisangia filed an official complaint against the Metropolitan Police which was upheld by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Ms Sisangia applied for legal aid to assist with her claim damages for false imprisonment but this was refused. She was told by the LAA that following cuts imposed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012, she was not entitled to Legal Aid as there had been no deliberate or dishonest abuse of power.

Mr Justice Dingemans ruled that the claim for false imprisonment related to an arrest that was deliberate and those actions resulted in harm to Ms Sisangia that was reasonably foreseeable. This would therefore satisfy the provisions in LASPO. He also stated;

“It would be surprising … if the legislature had left the phrase ‘abuse of position or power’ to be added as an additional requirement to a partial definition … There does not seem to be much point to define a phrase with a minimum content, and then to leave the additional requirements undefined.”

The decision is an important success for Civil Liberties in this Country in respect of funding. It is, of course, of the upmost importance that state authoritoes are held to account for unlawful loss of liberty. Prior to the implementation of LASPO, cases of false imprisonment were always funded by the LAA.

There has currently been a noted increased tendency for the Legal Aid Agency to find reasons to refuse funding. This is presumably to continue to reduce the legal aid bill. If this were to be the case, there is significant cause for concern that there is a real danger of narrowing the scope of funding beyond the original intentions of Parliament.

At Farleys we have an Actions Against the Police department which specialises in claims of this nature under several types of funding. We have a wealth of experience in bringing claims against the police where they have acted inappropriately. For further information or to speak to us about pursuing a claim, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us on 0845 050 1958 or email us.