What is seen as excessive force?

Any use of physical action by a police officer that goes beyond what is deemed necessary to resolve a situation may be considered excessive force. You do not need to be physically injured for an incident to constitute excessive force.

What does the law say on this for police officers?

There are certain principles and legislation that govern excessive force for police officers, namely:

  • Section 117 PACE 1984: when an arrest is made reasonable force may be used
  • Section 3 Criminal Law Act 1967: officers may use reasonable force to prevent crime
  • Common law: an officer may use reasonable force to protect themselves or another.

The Code of Ethics published by the College of Policing (which aims to support professional standards within the police) notes the following on use of force:

“4. Use of force

I will only use force as part of my role and responsibilities, and only to the extent that it is necessary, proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances.

4.1 This standard is primarily intended for police officers who, on occasion, may need to use force in carrying out their duties.

4.2 Police staff, volunteers and contractors in particular operational roles (for example custody-related) may also be required to use force in the course of their duties.

4.3 According to this standard you must use only the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve the required result.

4.4 You will have to account for any use of force, in other words justify it based upon your honestly held belief at the time that you used the force”.

The most contentious aspect of use of force is whether or not it is seen as ‘reasonable’. However, it is for the police to justify the use of their actions and ensure they stay compliant with the laws and principles that govern them.

What can be done?

There are two avenues that can be pursued against the police, which tend to be used in conjunction with each other. These are:

  1. Making a complaint against the police officer and
  2. Bringing a civil claim against the police arising from the incident.

If you believe you may have grounds to bring a claim for compensation against the police, our expert team of human rights solicitors will be happy to discuss this further with you.

Time limits

Police complaints should be made as soon as possible after the incident to maximise the chances of evidence being secured. There is also a 3-year limitation period (time limit) for any personal injury claim which arises from the incident, but in reality the time limit may be shorter if your claim involves other breaches of your rights.

Therefore it is always advisable to act urgently if you think you have a claim.

If you think that you or someone you know has been mistreated by the police, please call our office on 0207 632 4300.


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