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Epeli Seniloli & Attorney General v. Semi Voliti
High Court Civil Appellate Jurisdiction
February 22, 2000
Article 37: Torture and Deprivation of Liberty
Constitution (§ 27), Juveniles Act and Judges Rules
A 14-year old boy was detained for allegedly stealing. He was handcuffed to a post for four hours without explanation of the reasons for his detention. The boy claimed that he was falsely imprisoned, and the trial court agreed. The trial court awarded the boy $10,000 in aggravated damages and $5,000 in punitive damages on the count of gross misconduct by the police officers concerned. The police appealed against the award of $15,000 in damages.
Issue and Resolution:
Juvenile justice; right to compensation for rights violations. As the police's conduct violated the child's rights, they should be forced to compensate the child for these violations. More specifically, aggravated damages was justified, but $10,000 was an excessive award, while punitive damages in the amount of $5,000 were appropriate under the circumstances.
The facts of the case show that the police officers deliberately disregarded protective measures in place in relation to the custody of children and took advantage of the child’s vulnerable position. Under such circumstances, aggravated and punitive damages are called for. An award of $10,000 in aggravated damages in this case is higher than appropriate given Fiji’s social and economic conditions, but an award of $1,700 per hour of false imprisonment would be appropriate.
Excerpts Citing CRC and Other Relevant Human Rights Instruments:
“The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Fiji ratified in 1993, provides by virtue of Article 37: ‘(a) No child shall be subject to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period.’”
“The Convention in relation to the custody of children, is in conformity with the Juveniles Act and the Constitution. It is intended to ensure that children in conflict with the law, and who are vulnerable because of age and powerlessness in relation to the administration of law enforcement agencies, are accorded special protective measures.”
“The rights of juveniles are protected with adult suspects, by section 27 of the Constitution. Those rights include the right to be told of reasons for the arrest and detention, the right to prompt release if no charge is brought, the right to consult a legal practitioner, the right to communicate with next-of-kin, and the right ‘to be treated with humanity and with respect for his or her inherent dignity.’”
“The Juveniles Act provides for special measures to be taken in the detention of juveniles, the emphasis being to avoid detention except in exceptional circumstances.”
CRIN believes this decision is consistent with the CRC. As noted by the court, children in conflict with the law are in a particularly precarious situation and must be guaranteed all appropriate rights and protections envisioned under the Convention. Moreover, when these rights are violated, children must be able to seek and receive compensation from those who have caused those violations.
Civil Appeal No. HBA 0033 of 1999
Link to Full Judgment:
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