Welcome clarification on the issue of false imprisonment in a hospital setting

The High Court has provided a helpful reminder of the criteria when considering liability in false imprisonment claims.

The High Court’s latest decision in Ali v Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and G4S Secure Solutions provides that liability will only follow where the language and actions have gone beyond the simple giving of information to the police to decide what action they would take on it.

In this case the High Court heard an appeal from a County Court judgment. 

Mr Ali claimed damages for negligence against the NHS Trust and G4S and claimed damages for false imprisonment against G4S. The judge rejected both claims and Mr Ali appealed the dismissal of the false imprisonment claim against G4S.

Background facts and the County Court decision

Mr Ali’s three-year-old daughter (A) had been admitted to hospital with suspected pneumonia. While in hospital Mr and Mrs Ali were concerned that staff were not monitoring or treating their daughter and wished to remove A from hospital. Mr Ali was advised not to as A needed to remain in hospital to be monitored and treated if necessary. It is reported that Mr Ali persisted and, in accordance with hospital procedures, a nurse called security staff employed by G4S. The security staff could not persuade Mr Ali to allow A to remain in hospital and Mr and Mrs Ali started leaving the hospital car park with A in their car.  

A member of the hospital’s security staff, Mr Akram, called the police and told them “one of our warders reported a parent taking a child off the ward that’s got a child protection order on it” but that was wrong: there was no such thing in place regarding A.

The police responded by stopping Mr Ali’s car and they arrested him on suspicion of kidnapping and detained him. In due course, the police discovered that there was no child protection order in place and they de-arrested Mr Ali. However, he was then re-arrested on neglect charges. He had been detained for 20 hours before being released without charge.

The judge rejected the Mr Ali’s claim for negligence and false imprisonment.

Specifically on the false imprisonment claim. He found that the security guard had merely given “information to the police on which they could act or not as they saw fit. There was nothing in the information given by him that amounted to a direction or a procuring or a direct request or direct encouragement that the police should act by arresting Mr Ali.”

On appeal, the High Court’s decision

The appeal was advanced on two grounds:

  • The judge erred in law in holding that G4S was not liable for false imprisonment and concluding that there was nothing in the information given by Mr Akram to the police which amounted to a direction or procuring or direct request or direct encouragement that the police should act by arresting the Mr Ali.
  • The judge failed to give adequate reasons for his decision and that there was an absence of words or action going beyond the simple provision of information for the police to decide what action they would take on it.

The High Court:

  • Was not persuaded with Mr Ali’s renewed arguments and dismissed his appeal on the basis that the County Court judge had applied the correct test and arrived at the correct answer.
  • Decided that the judge had not erred in law in holding that the security company was not liable for false imprisonment. The key question was whether Mr Akram’s language and actions did or did not do more than lay information before the police. And in these circumstances, he did not: what was said amounted to the mere provision of information, Mr Akram did not expressly ask the police to arrest Mr Ali.  

A person who merely gives information in good faith (albeit mistakenly) does not commit the tort of false imprisonment. To be liable they have to go beyond that by directly requesting or directly encouraging officers to arrest.

Do get in touch with Helen Burnell or Ruth Minnis if you require support with matters.

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