Nick Ralston | SMH | March 25, 2012
Class action ... Musa Konneh was the first to sign up to legal action against the NSW government over the database errors. Photo: Ben Rushton
TWENTY-ONE children wrongfully arrested because of a computer error have joined a class action against the NSW government.
The move comes after the government failed to deliver on a promise made last June to fix the problem with the Department of Justice computer system, which police use when making arrests. Solicitors involved in the class action said that since then at least 11 children had been wrongfully arrested because of out-of-date information on the system.
Vavaa Mawuli, a senior solicitor with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre who is co-ordinating the action, said young people continued to be wrongfully detained, despite the class action. The Department of Justice's computer system, known as JusticeLink, did not fully sync with the police computer database. This meant police did not immediately have access to changes in a person's court records after they had appeared before a magistrate and had their bail conditions varied or dropped.
A police source said it was frustrating for officers, who were acting in good faith on the information that was available to them.
Last June, Musa Konneh became the first young person to join the class action seeking compensation over his wrongful detention.
Mr Konneh was arrested, strip-searched and spent a night in jail because the police computer database failed to recognise that all charges against him had been dismissed in the Children's Court four days earlier.
The Sun-Herald can reveal 30 young people have complained to the solicitors involved in the class action about being wrongfully arrested because of the system error, which dates back to 2005. Of the 30, 21 have instructed them that they want to be part of the action.
The law firm Maurice Blackburn, which is involved in the class action, said it believed the number involved could grow to as many as 200.
A young person involved in the class action was arrested at his Caringbah flat at 11.30pm on a Thursday in 2010 because he had not been home when police called at 8pm. But the then 17-year-old's bail conditions had been altered by a magistrate a month earlier, and his curfew had been extended to 9pm - a condition he had complied with. The teenager was taken to a juvenile justice centre, detained overnight and then taken and held in a cell at Parramatta Children's Court until the matter was thrown out by a magistrate.
Last June, the Minister for Police, Mike Gallacher, said the problem needed to be fixed urgently and that he did not believe it would be an issue in a year's time.
A spokeswoman for the minister yesterday said the government was seeking a response from the NSW Police Force and the Department of Justice. NSW Police said new safeguards had been put in place and it was working to fix the problem with the support of the government.
Last financial year, police were forced to pay more than $5 million to compensate people it had falsely imprisoned and assaulted. It was a $1 million increase on the previous year.