Holding the police to account – an important development

Ms Robinson, aged 76 at the time of the incident, was knocked over on a street by a group of men. Two of the men were police officers and the third was a suspected drug dealer whom they were attempting to arrest. In the course of a struggle, the suspect backed into Ms Robinson and she fell over with the three men falling on top of her and causing her injuries. The officers had foreseen that the suspect would attempt to escape but had not taken sufficient care to ensure that nearby members of the public would not be harmed.

It has previously been the position that the police cannot generally be sued in negligence for harm caused when investigating or preventing crime. Although this has been subject to some very limited exceptions, it gave the police broad protection even when they did not exercise proper care. However, as a result of the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, individuals affected by negligent police acts are now in a stronger position to hold the police to account. The Supreme Court has made clear that police may be under a duty of care to protect an individual from danger of injury from a third party which they have themselves created.

The Court decided that the police did have a duty of care to Ms Robinson in this case to protect her from the harm threatened by the suspect in the course of being arrested. Because an arrest is a positive act, rather than an omission or failure to act, the Court decided that it was appropriate for the Ms Robinson to be able to hold the police to account. The Supreme Court went on to agree with the trial judge that, despite taking into account the context of pressured decision making by the police officers, the arrest had been negligently performed.

Applying the Court's reasoning to other situations, the police may now owe members of the public a duty or care where a high speed pursuit results in the car being pursued injuring a pedestrian or another driver.

Hot on the heels of the decision in Robinson comes the Supreme Court's judgment in the case of DSD v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The Claimants are victims of John Worboys seeking to hold the police to account under the Human Rights Act 1998 for their failure to carry out an effective investigation. This is a very importance case, not least because there can be no claim in negligence for investigative failings. After a long wait, the Court has ruled in favour of the Claimants. This means that there is an obligation on the police to make sure that investigations into serious ill-treatment by a private individual (without any complicity by a public authority) are effective in individual cases, beyond a mere duty to have effective systems and procedures in place generally.

If you have been injured by a third party as a result of actions by the police or you have suffered as a result of a substandard police investigation into a serious crime, get in touch with our Civil Liberties Team to see if we can help. We specialise in actions against the police, and you may be able to get legal aid to help you bring a claim and obtain redress for harm caused to you by the police.


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