Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Auckland lawyer wins $14,000 for being unlawfully arrested

The lawyer was a passenger in a car which was pulled over after a sudden U-turn. Photo / File
The lawyer was a passenger in a car which was pulled over after a sudden U-turn. Photo / File

A former partner in an Auckland law firm since fallen on "hard times" has won $14,000 from police for being unlawfully arrested and "charged over nothing".

Nicholas David Wright was a passenger in the back seat of a car that was stopped on Auckland's Karangahape Road in May 2013 after being seen making a sudden U-turn.

One of the police officers who pulled the car over asked the occupants for identification but Wright refused, saying he did not believe he was legally required to provide it. He did so in an "odd and confrontational manner", according to a judge.

When the officer - Constable Vijayraj Bhosale - said he was exercising his power under the Land Transport Act, Wright stepped out of the car and said that law no longer applied to him. He announced he was exercising his right to freedom of movement and walked away. As he walked away, the officer placed an arm out in front of Wright, who pushed past. He was then arrested, handcuffed and taken to Auckland Central Police Station.

Wright was given a notice that said he was being held in custody for failing to give his name and address on demand. He was charged under the Land Transport Act, fingerprinted, and locked in a cell before being released on bail at 4am - two and a half hours after arriving at the station.

Some four months later, police conceded there was no lawful basis for the charge and it was dismissed.

Wright, that same year, launched High Court action against Bhosale and the Crown, alleging assault and battery, wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and various breaches of the Bill of Rights Act.

While the police accepted Wright was wrongly arrested and falsely imprisoned, some other matters were disputed.

One was whether Wright was intoxicated at the time of his arrest - he said he was not and that the police declined to test him when he asked for one.

Bhosale gave evidence that Wright had bloodshot eyes and a flushed complexion.

The former lawyer accepted his eyes may have been bloodshot due to allergies and that he may have been flushed due to anger. Justice Anne Hinton, who heard the case, proceeded on the basis that Wright was not intoxicated at the time of his arrest. There was also a big divide between Wright and police about what damages he should receive.

Wright wanted $125,000 in general and exemplary damages, while the Crown believed $5000 was appropriate. The judge accepted Wright suffered discomfort, fear for his well-being and humiliation.

Mr Wright was falsely imprisoned from when he was arrested and handcuffed until he was released on bail. That was a breach of [The Bill of Rights Act].
Justice Hinton

"I take into account that because of Mr Wright's knowledge of the law, he would have felt greater humiliation and outrage than a person who did not have a legal background," she said. "Regarding Mr Wright's attitude at the time he was arrested, he may well have been aggressive and confrontational ... it was not unreasonable for Mr Wright to be indignant under the circumstances. He was being arrested, imprisoned and charged over nothing. I do not consider the fact that Mr Wright had a particular negative mind set towards the police based on past experiences was relevant one way or the other," Justice Hinton said.

The judge made declarations that when Bhosale seized Wright's hand, cuffed him and searched him, that constituted a battery and that the constable had no right to direct the former lawyer to provide his name and address. Because Bhosale was acting outside his statutory powers, the arrest was unlawful, she said.

"Mr Wright was falsely imprisoned from when he was arrested and handcuffed until he was released on bail. That was a breach of [The Bill of Rights Act]," Justice Hinton said in a decision released publicly this week.

Bhosale and the Crown were ordered to pay $14,000 in general damages by the judge, who did not think exemplary damages were warranted in this case.

It was not the first time Wright had dealings with the police, and Justice Hinton's decision refers to an alleged incident and arrest at his home in 2009.

Another encounter took place in 2012 where a charge of trespass brought against Wright was dismissed.

Read the judge's full decision here:

- NZ Herald

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