No apology for night in the cells

Despite an "acknowledged wrong" in the handling of a Wellington woman's court file that led to her being held in custody overnight, she had not received so much as a letter of apology, a lawyer says.

Camille Iriana Thompson has made a civil claim against the Attorney-General asking for $50,000 compensation for the failures that led to her spending more than 15 hours in custody.

In the High Court at Wellington today Justice Alan MacKenzie reserved his decision.

The events leading to Thompson's arrest were not disputed and neither she nor the court staff thought to have handled her file were witnesses in the civil case.

She had been at Wellington District Court on July 18, 2012, when the matters she faced were finally dealt with including one issue that had been scheduled to be in court on July 23, 2012.

Court records should have been updated that day to show she had no outstanding charges. However the court computer system and the paper records still had not been updated on July 23, 2012, when part of the paper file was put before a judge who issued a warrant for Thompson's arrest because she was not at court.

The computer and paper records were not updated either by July 31, 2012, when police found Thompson in Mt Cook, Wellington, and arrested her. She was at the central police station overnight and taken to court the next day where a judge promptly ordered her release.

Her lawyer, Douglas Ewen, said in court today that despite the acknowledged wrong Thompson had not received even a letter of apology.

The evidence showed there was a poor level of training at Wellington District Court in 2012, he said.

Staff should have been trained to know that a person's freedom could be at stake if records were not properly kept, he said.

For the Attorney-General lawyer Sean Kinsler said what happened was "regrettable" and Thompson should not have spent the night in the cells in those circumstances. However the Attorney-General, who was named as the representative for the secretary for Justice and staff, was not liable.

The process error in Thompson's case was covered by an immunity that centred on protecting judges from civil liability for errors but extended to actions of "a judicial nature", which Kinsler said included staff.

It was also denied a "systemic failure" led to the mistakes.

A court manager had given evidence that training was available for staff. Kinsler said no link had been shown between the system of training and what happened to Thompson.

What happened was unusual and regrettable but the Bill of Rights Act guaranteed a fair system of justice, not an infallible one.

The Dominion Post