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Supreme Court gives guidance on the duty to give reasons for detention


In a judgment handed down on 27 July 2016, Lee-Hirons v Secretary of State for Justice [2016] UKSC 46, the Supreme Court has given guidance on the duty to give reasons to those detained on the basis of mental illness, and the effect of a failure to give adequate reasons on the legality of that person’s detention.

Mr Lee-Hirons was initially detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 following conviction for arson and burglary. He was conditionally discharged by the First Tier Tribunal, but subject to a restriction order such that he was liable to recall by the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State subsequently determined that Mr Lee-Hirons should be recalled to hospital. When the warrant for his detention was executed, Mr Lee-Hirons was told simply that his mental health had deteriorated. He was given no further reasons for his detention – oral or written – for a period of 15 days.

The Secretary of State accepted that this failure to give further reasons constituted a breach of his policy (which required reasons to be given within 72 hours), and a breach of Article 5(2) ECHR, which requires that a detained person be informed promptly of the reasons for his or her detention.

The appeal concerned whether those admitted failures to give reasons rendered Mr Lee-Hirons’ detention unlawful, such that he was entitled to bring an action for the tort of unlawful imprisonment, and whether he was entitled to damages for breach of Article 5 ECHR pursuant to s. 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Court concluded, unanimously, that Mr Lee-Hirons’ detention had been lawful, and that he was not entitled to damages, whether for the tort of unlawful detention or for the admitted breach of Article 5(2) ECHR.

Applying Christie v Leachinsky [1947] AC 573 the Court concluded that it was only necessary that a person be told the “ground” of his or her detention at the time of arrest, and that there was no requirement for further reasons to be given at that time. This duty had been discharged by informing Mr Lee-Hirons that the reason for his detention was the deterioration in his mental health. Further, the Court concluded that there was “no link, let alone a direct link” between the subsequent (admitted) failure to give reasons, and the lawfulness of Mr Lee-Hirons’ detention. Applying its previous decision in R (Lumba) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] 1 AC 245, therefore, the detention was lawful.

As to damages, the Court concluded that Mr Lee-Hirons had suffered no pecuniary loss, and that he had failed to establish that the effects of the admitted breach was “sufficiently grave” to justify an order for damages.

The judgment is here.

A link to the video of the hearing appears here.

Martin Chamberlain QC and Oliver Jones appeared for the Secretary of State for Justice.