Successful habeas corpus application against Governor of HMP Peterborough for unlawful detention of a civil prisoner

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Tim Baldwin of Garden Court Chambers represented the claimant in the case of SC v The Governor of HMP Peterborough CO/1858/2017 on an application for a writ for habeas corpus.

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The claimant, who has a history of poor mental health, is subject to an injunction excluding them from an area in Coventry by their former landlord. The claimant breached the injunction in early March 2017 and was arrested and appeared before DJ Sanghera at Coventry County Court who remanded the claimant in custody for three weeks for a mental health assessment at HMP Peterborough pending sentencing on the committal.

On the 5 April 2017, the claimant appeared before DJ Sanghera and admitted two breaches of the injunction. The judge sentenced the claimant to six weeks’ imprisonment for contempt but held that the claimant’s three weeks spent on remand count as time served on the sentence, ordering the immediate discharge of the claimant.

Unbeknown to the claimant’s solicitor and despite not being a party to the committal proceedings, HMP Peterborough refused to release the claimant and she was returned to HMP Peterborough. The offender managers claimed that the judge had no power to make the order made under the reforms to section 240 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 by section 108 LASPO 2012 and said the claimant was to remain in prison until 25 April 2017.

The claimant’s solicitor, on finding out about the claimant’s continued detention, wrote on several occasions to the prison seeking the claimant’s release citing the case of R (James) v Governor of Birmingham and others [2015] 1 W.L.R.4210, paragraphs 28-35, a copy of which was supplied to the Governor of HMP Peterborough. Refusing release, their response on 13 April 2017 stated that remand time did not count, DJ Sanghera’s order was wrong and they had contacted the judge without involvement of the parties to confirm this.

On 19 April 2017 an urgent application for a writ of habeas corpus was made to the High Court by the claimant. Mrs Justice May DBE granted the application and issued a writ to the Governor of HMP Peterborough to produce the claimant at Birmingham Family and Civil Justice Centre before HHJ Worster sitting as a High Court judge.

Mrs Justice May DBE in her reasoning identified the order of DJ Sanghera was such that the discharge was intended to be on 5 April 2017 and referred to reasoning in R (James) v Governor of Birmingham and others [2015] 1 W.L.R.4210 where, although a prison was no longer required to provide for time on remand, a judge still had the discretion.

On 20 April 2017 the claimant was produced and HMP Peterborough did not oppose the application. HHJ Worster ordered the immediate release of the claimant from the custody of HMP Peterborough after 15 days of unlawful detention.

Comment

Unlike the cases referred to recently in the Guardian, the claimant in this case was lucky in that she was able to secure legal aid for both the committal hearing and application for habeas corpus.

This case does demonstrate the importance of proper funding and representation in such cases where vulnerable individuals are at risk of custodial sentences and wrongful and inappropriate detention when thresholds for detention can be as low as non-aggressive begging for 50p in breach of an injunction, as identified in the case in Worcester.


Tim Baldwin was instructed by Lydia Nash of Central England Law Centre (Coventry) and is a member of the housing, public law and civil liberties teams at Garden Court Chambers.

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