Thursday, 7 January 2010


During the Prison Officer stirke of August 2007 a prisoner called Mr Iqbal could not get out of his cell in accordance with the usual prison regime because there were no prison officers.  The Governor ordered the prisoners to be kept in their cells.  Mr Iqbal sued the Prisoner Officers Association (POA) for false imprisonment.  This made no sense to me.  If a person is lawfully in prison, how can he be falsely imprisoned in his cell?  Anyway His Honour Judge Shaun Spencer QC thought he had been falsely imprisoned and awarded him £5 against the POA.
The POA appealed and the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment below on 4th December last year - Iqbal v POA [2009] EWCA Civ 1312.  The Court was worried that if prisoners were not let out of their cells by mistake or inefficiency, the Courts would be overwhelmed with claims:

"The rights of prisoners should certainly be acknowledged: indeed according and respecting rights are one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. Further, it can fairly be said that every moment out of his cell is valuable to a prisoner. However, I think that the court should be reluctant to reach a conclusion whose implications could lead to many small private law damages claims arising from what may often be little more than poor time-keeping by prison officers, and whose outcome may often turn on issues such as whether an officer in an undermanned prison could better have organised his working day to ensure that a prisoner was let out of his cell at precisely the time stipulated by the governor."

The MR would have awarded him £120 rather than £5 if he had have been falsely imprisoned.

But at least common sense prevailed in the end.

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