False imprisonment of young people class action

On 8 June 2011, Maurice Blackburn together with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre launched a class action in the Supreme Court of New South Wales seeking compensation for children and young people who have been wrongfully arrested and detained by NSW police for breach of bail.

It is thought that over 100 children and young people have been wrongfully arrested in NSW because of a long-standing problem with the police computer system containing out-of-date or incorrect bail information. Sometimes a person's bail status will change either when their case is finalised in the Children's Court or their bail conditions are varied: often these changes in a person's bail status are not being added to the police computer system.

The consequence of this problem with the police computer system has been a devastating loss of freedom for the children and young people who are wrongfully arrested by police officers acting on the basis of wrong information.

The lead applicant in the class action is 21 year old Musa Konneh, who was arrested and unlawfully detained in southwest Sydney in August 2010. Acting on the basis of incorrect bail information, police detained Mr Konneh overnight. The next day the Children's Court identified that the police had made a mistake and ordered Mr Konneh's immediate release.

The class action is open to children and young people who were arrested by NSW police for breach of bail or bail conditions which were no longer current. The class action is only open to people whose bail related to a case being heard in the Children's Court.

The State of NSW has tried to have part of the claim struck out on two occasions. In April 2013 we won the second strike out application with costs. The State has appealed that decision to the NSW Court of Appeal. This appeal is yet to be heard.

Major development - September 2013

In a major development in this case, on 27 September 2013 the Supreme Court of New South Wales determined that the police could not rely on the Bail Act to justify the arrest of any young person who was not on bail at the time of arrest: Konneh v State of New South Wales (No 3) [2013] NSWSC 1424. Justice Garling found that the police had no lawful excuse for mistakenly arresting young people who were not on bail, placing great emphasis on the importance of personal liberty, and restating the fundamental principle that the right to personal liberty should not be compromised except where the Parliament clearly intends to do so.

This is a very significant win for many young people who are part of the class action. The judgment paves the way for this group of young people - those not on bail at the time of arrest - to receive financial compensation. Young people who believe they fall within this group are invited to contact the Public Interest Advocacy Centre on (02) 8898 6504 without delay.

For a second group of young people - those who were arrested where a police officer had made a mistake regarding the conditions of their bail - the class action will continue. The court found that the defence under the Bail Act potentially applies to this class, however it remains to be shown by the State in every case that the police officers' mistakes were made "on reasonable grounds".  Young people within this group are also invited to contact the Public Interest Advocacy Centre on (02) 8898 6504 to discuss their circumstances.

Court win for wrongful imprisonment of children, media statement, 27 September 2013