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Sheppard v The Home Office, Court of Appeal

2 January 2003
The issues

Prison – burden of proof – injury whilst in custody.

The facts

The Claimant was a prisoner at HMP High Down. He suffered a fractured jaw, nasal fracture and fractured cheekbone whilst in prison. He claimed that his injuries were caused by an attack by prison officers. The Home Office denied the allegations and brought 16 witnesses to trial seeking to show that the injuries were self-inflicted. There were no witnesses other than the Claimant himself otherwise at Trial. The Judge accepted the evidence brought by the Home Office and dismissed the action. The Claimant appealed arguing that where someone in custody had sustained injuries a different approach was necessary and in particular that there was a higher standard of proof placed upon The Home Office in such cases and that it was for The Home Office to disprove responsibility for the injuries. The Claimant also argued that in accepting the evidence of The Home Office he had effectively found that the Claimant had caused the injuries himself which was perverse.

The decision

1. Following the approach laid down by the Strasbourg Court in Behiye Salman -v- Turkey it was clear that there was a high evidential burden of proof upon prison authorities to show that the responsibilities for injuries caused to prisoners whilst in prison was not the responsibility of the authority.

2. However it did not follow that the civil burden of proof in a claim for damages was different. A Defendant in such a case would inevitably be required to put forward a serious positive case as to why it was not responsible.

3. Provided that a Judge was aware of the approach to be taken there was no special rule that ought to be applied.

4. In this case it was clear that the Judge had properly required an explanation from The Home Office for the events that had occurred.

5. The Judge was entitled to reject the Claimant’s case even though it left to the inference that the Claimant caused the injuries himself and even though that was unlikely.

Appeal dismissed.

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