The duty to investigate ill-treatment

The case of Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v DSD set important precedents for police officers. It made clear the circumstances under which a failure to investigate ill-treatment may breach article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which provides protection from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. The Supreme Court confirmed that the duty to investigate applied to serious ill-treatment by private individuals, and not just the state.

The Facts of the Case

In this case, two victims of John Worboys ('the Black Cab Rapist') won their claim for compensation against the Metropolitan Police. The women had been victims of rape and sexual assault.

The two victims in question had reported attacks to the police in 2003 and 2007. The police failed to charge John Worboys at that point. Due to serious police failures, which have been acknowledged by the police, he was only brought to justice in 2009. He was convicted of 19 offences against 12 women, including one count of rape.

After his conviction, the police estimated that 100 women may have been attacked. One of the victims expressed that if they had done their job properly, there would have been only one victim.

The Judgment

The Supreme Court held that there is an operational duty to investigate crime and to conduct a proper inquiry into behaviour amounting to a breach of article 3 ECHR. This duty will be triggered when there is an allegation of serious violence, by a private individual or otherwise. Police officers are likely to be in breach of their duties under article 3 if there are serious errors during the investigation. It is not necessary for the whole system to be flawed.

After the judgment was handed down, the Metropolitan Police acknowledged that the decision means the force will have to shift resources towards the investigation of such crimes.

Similar principles may be applied to other state bodies who are required to investigate serious ill-treatment, such as prisons, immigration detention centres and psychiatric hospital.

Your rights

If you or a loved one have had their civil liberties breached, contact our experienced team today on 020 3553 3114 or make an enquiry here on our website.

Our lawyers have an excellent record obtaining compensation, apologies, along with disciplinary action, against the police and other public bodies.


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