I’ve been mistreated by the police – what are my rights?

If you have been a victim of police misconduct, you may be at a loss for how you can take action. There are a number of different civil claims and other forms of redress you can bring against the police if you allege wrongdoing.

Common civil claims against the police include:

  • False imprisonment
  • Assault and battery
  • Malicious prosecution
  • Misfeasance in Public Office
  • Discrimination under the Equality Act 2010
  • Claims under the Human Rights Act 1998

In addition to this, you could pursue other forms of redress in the form of:

  • A police complaint
  • Victims Right to Review scheme
  • Judicial Review

False imprisonment

If you have been arrested and/or detained by the police, and they did not have a lawful excuse for this, you may have a claim for false imprisonment.

Also known as ‘wrongful arrest’, false imprisonment most commonly occurs when the police make an arrest which is not legally justified.

A claim for false imprisonment hinges on two aspects:

  • You showing that you were detained
  • The police being unable to show that they had lawful authority for your detention

Claims for false imprisonment may arise from common situations such as:

  • In the course of a stop and search
  • On arrest
  • Police questioning
  • In prison

You can read more information about false imprisonment here.

Assault and battery

While police are entitled to use force in certain circumstances, if they use force against you that is excessive, or unlawful altogether, you may have a claim for assault and/or battery.

To bring a claim for assault, you must show that:

  • The officers acted in a way which put you in immediate fear that unlawful physical contact would be used against you

To bring a claim for battery, you must show that:

  • The officers inflicted unwanted physical contact upon you;
  • The officers did this intentionally or recklessly; and
  • The officers did not have a lawful excuse to use force

Common situations in which claims for assault and battery may occur include:

  • You being unlawfully arrested or detained. Any force or threat of force used to effect the arrest and detention would therefore also be unlawful
  • Excessive force used during, say, a stop and search, such as where the police taser you at a time when you were compliant; or where the police have used so much force in effecting your arrest that you have ended up with serious injuries such as broken bones
  • Strip searching

You can read more information about assault and battery here.

Malicious prosecution

If you are able to show that the police continued proceedings against you in bad faith or out of malice you may have a claim for malicious prosecution.

Notoriously difficult to establish, malicious prosecution claims hinge on you showing that:

  • You were prosecuted e.g. the police secured evidence that led to your prosecution
  • This ended in your favour e.g. that you were acquitted at court, or the charges against you were dropped.
  • The police lacked reasonable and probable cause to arrest you
  • The prosecution was malicious (requiring bad faith on the part of the police)
  • The prosecution caused you damage i.e. to your reputation, liberty or property

A common example of malicious prosecution is where the police attempt to cover their tracks after using unlawful force against you, by lying and creating evidence which suggest that you had assaulted them before they used force upon you. In this example, the truth would be either that you had used no force at all, or that they assaulted you and only then did you use force against them, to defend yourself. The police’s fabricated, false evidence could then be used to charge you with the crime of ‘assaulting a police officer’. In doing this, the police will have abused their powers in bad faith, to make you appear to be a criminal, and to make their actions appear lawful. The reality is however, that you were assaulted by the police, and that you acted in lawful ‘self defence’ when you used force upon them.

You can read more information about malicious prosecution here.

Misfeasance in Public Office

If you are able to show that a public officer acted maliciously, or with bad intent towards you while knowing that they were acting beyond their powers (or being careless as to whether they were or not), you may have a claim for misfeasance.

Similar to malicious prosecution, a claim for misfeasance can be difficult to succeed in, as you will need to show what the officer’s state of mind was, which can be impossible in many cases.

The ingredients of this claim are:

  • The person whose conduct (or failure to do something) in question must be a public officer, and the conduct complaint of must be an exercise of the power they have a result of their position;
  • They must have intended to cause you damage by carrying out that power, or knowingly or recklessly have acted in excess of their power (pure mistake will not be enough). Put another way, they must have acted in bad faith or with ‘ill will’;
  • Through the conduct in question, they must have caused you damage (financial, reputational, personal injury, or loss of liberty); and
  • That the public officer knew or foresaw that that their conduct would probably cause damage of the kind that it actually caused.

You can read more about misfeasance here.

Discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and the European Convention on Human Rights

Claims against the police for discrimination are sadly common. Recent reports show that in relation to the protected characteristic of race in particular, individuals from certain racial backgrounds are more likely to face discriminatory treatment when interacting with the police. This is contrary to the Equality Act 2010 which protects people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society and is based on 7 protected characteristics as set out below. It is also contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) which states that the rights and freedoms under the ECHR must be protected and applied without discrimination. It is important to note that Article 14 is not a freestanding right i.e. it cannot be used on its own in a claim, but rather it must be claimed in conjunction with another ECHR right.  That is, the claim must be that the discrimination has affected your ability to enjoy your other human rights, such as, your right to liberty.

If you are able to show that you were discriminated against, on basis of one of the 7 protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership status, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, you may have a claim under the Equality Act 2010 and/or the Human Rights Act 1998.

Read more about discrimination here.

Claims under the Human Rights Act 1998

Under the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA”), you have the right to bring an action against a public authority for breach of your convention rights under the ECHR. Police officers and staff are bound by section 6 of the HRA which states that public bodies must act compatibly with the ECHR. The rights enshrined in the ECHR (and thus incorporated into UK law via the HRA) are set out in a number of ‘Articles’ which set the context for civil claims that may be brought against a public body.

In a police context, claims typically brought under the HRA could include:

  • Article 2 ECHR (right to life): where for example, an individual has died whilst under the custody of a public authority and/or following police contact, and the police have failed to put systems in place or take steps to safeguard life;
  • Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment):
    • Where for example, a police officer uses more force than is necessary (even a slap), which humiliates a person, shows a lack of respect, or similar, this could result in a successful claim for ‘degrading’ treatment. Torture is a more serious form of ill treatment.
    • Article 3 also requires the police, in certain circumstances, to take steps to protect people from torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment from members of the public, for example, to protect victims of domestic violence from further abuse.
    • Article 3 is also relevant to police investigations of certain crimes. Where it applies, it obliges the police to carry out an ‘effective investigation’ which means many things, but includes that the investigation must be conducted promptly. We commonly bring such claims in the context of rape and other serious sexual assaults.
  • Article 5 (right to liberty and security): for example, where an individual alleges unlawful arrest or detention and where an individual is detained for an offence that the police no longer have reasonable suspicion has been committed by that person
  • Article 8 (right to private and family life): for example, where an individual alleges that their body has been interfered with unlawfully (e.g. in a strip search), where the police lack reasonable suspicion yet carry out a search anyway; where the police interrogate your personal data without justification, during a lawful search (for example, going through your diaries or other personal documents where they have no relevance to the purpose of the search); or where the police retain or share your data in a way that is disproportionate to the purpose for which they are doing so.
  • Article 14 (discrimination): see above (under discrimination heading).

Read more about the HRA here.

Police complaints

Police complaints are a commonly used means of seeking redress where police misconduct has occurred. The police are required to abide by certain standards of professional conduct, such as honesty, confidentiality, equal treatment of those they serve, and proportionate and reasonable use of force. Any failure to meet these standards may not only result in the police officer in question being disciplined or even prosecuted, but may also form the grounds for the person impacted upon by the conduct in question, to make a police complaint.

You can read more about the police complaints process here

Other challenges against the police

The list of challenges detailed here, is not exhaustive. There are other claims or challenges you might be able to bring against the police, for example, claims in negligence, trespass, harassment, defamation, and breach of the Data Protection Act, amongst other things.

There is also a process where you can challenge police decision-making in the context of criminal investigations. This is called the ‘Victims’ Right to Review’ scheme or ‘VRR’. Decisions of the police you can challenge include:

  • The decision not to charge someone ; or
  • Where the police decide that the case does not meet the test for the Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) to decide to charge a suspect. NB: please note that there is a separate VRR scheme where you are challenging the CPS’ decision making. We can help you with challenges under the CPS VRR scheme as well.
  • You may also be able to challenge the police through a court process called ‘judicial review’.

You can read more about VRR here, and judicial review here.

At Saunders Law, we offer expert legal assistance and representation in civil claims against the police. We can also assist you in making a complaint or other type of challenge against the officers or force involved. We're well-known for actions against the police and other state authorities, and take a thorough and determined approach to cases, working hard to ensure that you obtain the appropriate level of damages for the wrong that you have suffered. All of our solicitors within the Civil Liberties and Actions against the Police Department have extensive experience in this area.

For a free, no-obligation, initial discussion to see if we might be able to help, please contact us today.

Call us on 020 7632 4300 or make an enquiry online.


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