Queensland’s highest court has found police falsely imprisoned a man for allegedly hooning while driving to visit his gravely sick father in hospital.
The Court of Appeal in Brisbane unanimously found Richard Scott Walker was illegally detained by police while his car was impounded on the Sunshine Coast on 10 September 2012.
Court President Walter Sofronoff QC, in a recently released 13-page decision, said: “Mr Walker…went to visit his father at a Sunshine Coast Hospital…and saw that he was severely ill.
“He was told that a palliative care team would meet with (him) at 10am that morning. It was just after 9.30am and Mr Walker was in a distressed state.
“He decided to settle himself by going to a nearby service station to buy a packet of cigarettes. He drove to a 7-Eleven petrol station on Nicklin Way at Kawana, made his purchase, then drove out of the service station.”
Justice Sofronoff said that, a short time later, two police officers detained Mr Walker as he was making a U-turn and accused him of doing a ‘burn-out’.
“Mr Walker denied that he had done (a burn-out)…and told (the two police officers) that his father was in a nearby hospital in a critical state and that he was anxious to get back there. (One officer) made a phone call and confirmed that that was true.’’
However, the court was told the officers continued to detain Mr Walker, advised him he was being charged for hooning and would have to wait at the scene until a tow truck came to collect his vehicle and he was issued with paperwork to the effect his vehicle would be impounded for 90-days.
“Mr Walker said that he wanted to go because he was in a hurry to get back to the hospital to be with his father…(but ,one officer) told him that he could not leave.
“Mr Walker offered to leave his car keys so that the car could be impounded but the offer was refused and he was required to remain.
“At one point (one officer) said words to the effect of, ‘If you attempt to go you will be arrested.’
“As a result, Mr Walker was detained until the tow truck arrived and removed the car (an hour after he was initially detained.”
The court was told Mr Walker contested the hooning charge and was subsequently found not guilty by a magistrate.
“Mr Walker then commenced proceedings in the District Court (before Judge Greg Koppenol) against the State of Queensland for damages of false imprisonment and for malicious prosecution,” the judgment says.
“A jury found for the (police) on both claims and judgment was entered accordingly. Mr Walker now appeals only against the dismissal of his claims for damages for false imprisonment.”
The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Mr Walker, saying the presiding judge’s directions to the jury “contain serious errors of law”.
“The power (by police) of restraint is a power whose exercise is strictly limited as an aid to impoundment and not as an aid to serve documents in a way that is most convenient for the police officer serving them,” the judgment says.
“Second, whether or not the period of restraint was ‘reasonably necessary’ to effect an impoundment is a matter of objective fact and does not vary according to subjective judgment of the police officer concerned.”
Accordingly the court, comprising Justices Sofronoff, Morrison and Philippides, ruled in favour of Mr Walker’s claim for damages for false imprisonment.
The court ordered the proceedings be remitted to the District Court for an assessment of damages by a judge other than Judge Koppenol.