Spedding v State of New South Wales [2022] NSWSC 1627  

In the matter of Spedding v State of New South Wales [2022] NSWSC 1627, the plaintiff, Mr William Harrie Spedding, commenced court proceedings against the defendant, the State of New South Wales, seeking damages as a result of malicious prosecution, misfeasance in public office, collateral abuse of process, and false imprisonment.  

Intentional Acts

The defendant submitted that each of the causes of action pleaded by the plaintiff had “…nothing to do with an intention to cause injury or death”. However, at [318] to [321], the trial judge provided that in relation to this and section 3B(1)(a) of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW): 

I agree with Mr Spedding’s submission that this is plainly incorrect because it appears to be based on an assumption that the word “injury” in s 3B(a)(a) of the Civil Liability Act is limited to “personal injury” as defined in s 11. The definition is not limited in this way: State of New South Wales v Ibbett (2005) 65 NSWLR 168; [2005] NSWCA 445 at [5]-[11]. The deprivation of liberty, anxiety, distress, embarrassment and humiliation flow from the torts which have been pleaded, particularly malicious prosecution. Those who committed these torts intended to do so. For example, Detective Brennan intended to arrest and charge Mr Spedding, acts that necessarily involved depriving him of his liberty and in that context causing him anxiety and distress. These are things falling within the definition of “injury” in s 3B(1)(a) of the Act and at least in part led to Mr Spedding sustaining a psychiatric condition. The fact that the police officers intended to prosecute Mr Spedding and in that context deprive him of his liberty, resulting in his psychiatric condition, is sufficient to satisfy s 3B(1)(a) with the consequence that Part 2 of the Act does not apply: s 11A provides that Part 2 applies to and in respect of an award of personal injury damages, except an award that is excluded from the operation of the Part by s 3B. Section 16 of the Act therefore does not apply to the assessment of Mr Spedding’s damages for non-economic loss. 

Exemplary & Aggravated Damages

Briefly, the purpose of aggravated damages is to compensate the plaintiff for the distress caused by the defendant’s wrongdoing/negligence. The purpose of exemplary damages is to punish the defendant for their wrongdoing/negligence, and awards of exemplary damages aim to deter others from doing the same thing.  

In this matter, the trial judge awarded the significant amount of $300,000 for exemplary damages. When making this award, the trial judge provided at [315]: 

I also consider that Mr Spedding is entitled to damages in the sum of $300,000.00 under this heading, calculated so as to punish the State for prosecuting him where there was no warrant for doing so and when the decision to do so was not merely the result of a well-intentioned but mistaken appreciation of the true facts. It is in my view difficult to imagine a more seriously improper tactic in the purported exercise of legitimate police powers than to arrest and charge a man in order to put pressure upon him in relation to an ongoing but unrelated investigation, and even then to persist with the prosecution long after the desired strategic advantage has patently evaporated. In a paraphrase of Inspector Jubelin’s published recollections, it was inevitable that Mr Spedding would be damaged but such was the price of his search for a killer. I reject that sentiment as illegitimate, wholly unacceptable and inappropriate. Its repetition should be disavowed and deterred in the strongest possible terms. 

The trial judge also awarded $200,000 for aggravated damages, provided at [313]: 

In forming that view, I consider that the State’s insistence that the notion of “insult” is not apt to include the effects upon Mr Spedding of “insults” directed at him by members of the public is too narrow and I do not accept it. A consequence of the inappropriate prosecution must be taken to include, among other things, the opprobrium and unfair treatment directed at him by members of the public as an obvious result of the commission of the tort. Mr Spedding’s experience with the patently rabid neighbour captured on video at his front door and the incident he related about the reaction he received when seeking pathology services speak loudly in support of an insidious level of vitriol directed towards him. 

The trial judge ultimately awarded damages to the plaintiff in the amount of $1,484,292 plus interest on the heads of damage that attract interest. The trial judge further ordered that the defendant pay the plaintiff’s costs.  

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