Appeal court slashes award to man beaten in police custody
A man – who was awarded nearly $5 million plus interest after he was falsely imprisoned and beaten by inmates after cops labelled him a homosexual – had his award slashed by more than half on appeal by the State. The respondent, Clifford James, was...
A man – who was awarded nearly $5 million plus interest after he was falsely imprisoned and beaten by inmates after cops labelled him a homosexual – had his award slashed by more than half on appeal by the State.
The respondent, Clifford James, was awarded $1.5 million for general damages for false imprisonment by the Supreme Court, $3 million in general damages for breach of his constitutional right to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment, and a further $450,000 vindicatory damages for the said violation. All the awards attracted a three per cent interest.
However, the State contended that the awards were excessive.
The appellate court cancelled the vindicatory award, and set aside the $3 million constitutional award, replacing it with an award for $500,000, plus interest.
In the recently published judgement, the Court of Appeal judges affirmed the $1.5 million award plus interest from February 29, 2016, to March 3, this year.
James had sued the State after he was arrested following an attack by a security guard on February 15, 2014, in which he sustained chop wounds and was hospitalised.
According to the respondent, while at the Kingston Public Hospital, he was handcuffed and placed under police guard.
He was discharged three days later, but was taken into custody and detained at the Half-Way Tree Police Station for seven days before being released without charge.
However, James said that during the week at the station, he was labelled a homosexual by the police and beaten by inmates, who also accused him of being “gay”.
He claimed that he was rescued by other police officers, who placed him in another cell before his release, which was due to the failure of the complainant to attend an identification parade.
However, the attorney general argued that the police had reasonable grounds for detaining James.
The State’s case was that James was injured after he and another man, who were both armed, unlawfully went to an apartment at Kingsway Avenue in St Andrew and approached the guard in a threatening manner.
According to the attorney general, James was arrested but released after the guard failed to point him out during an identification parade.
Following the awards, however, the attorney general filed an appeal on five grounds, including that the general damages for false imprisonment and the constitutional breach were inordinately excessive and that no judge properly applying their mind to the evidence could reasonably have made such an award.
The state lawyer also contended that the trial judge had erred in awarding James vindicatory damages, as the general damages covered the violation and to have awarded both was compensating the respondent twice.
Also included was that the judge had erred in awarding interest on the awards for the constitutional breach.
Kamau Ruddock, who argued on behalf of the attorney general, said that based on the cases relied on, $600,000 would have been a reasonable award for the 11 days that James was falsely imprisoned, while $500,000 would have sufficed for the general damages for the constitutional breach.
James’ lawyer, Anwar Wright, argued that the awards did not amount to an erroneous assessment of damages which would render the award excessive and would require the appellate court’s intervention.
Wright, at the same time, highlighted the general principle that the appellate court should be reluctant to interfere with an award for damages by the lower court unless there is clear evidence that the judge was wrong.
In respect to the vindicatory award, Wright said it was appropriate to vindicate his client of his constitutional right that had been contravened.
But the Court of Appeal judges found merit in the attorney general’s contention.
At the same time one of the judges emphasised that the decision was not to be misunderstood “to be minimising the gravity of the breach which was suffered by the respondent, and the seriousness with which he viewed it.”