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The Law in Claims Against the Police

The Law in Claims Against the Police

The usual civil actions that brought against the Police are discussed as follows:

False Imprisonment

False Imprisonment (aka wrongful/unlawful/false arrest) is the deprivation of one’s liberty without lawful cause for any amount of time. In other words and in order to prove that you have been falsely imprisoned, you need to prove that you were detained and that there was no lawful authority to justify that said detention. Usually, it is for you to prove all of your case against the opponent but in claims against the Police, you only need to prove that you were imprisoned and once you have done this, it is for the Police to prove their justification in doing so.

To bring an actionable False Imprisonment claim, there is no minimum amount of time that you need to be detained for. Although this may be the case, the level of compensation award to you upon successful conclusion does vary upon the amount of time that you have been detained for. In order to be ‘detained’ for the purposes of bringing a claim, you need not be physically put into a cell; a detention can simply be that you were stopped and searched on the street.

The usual response that is used by the Police in defending such actions brought against them is Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Essentially, the Police need to prove that:-

  • The arresting officer honestly suspected the arrested person was involved in the commission of a criminal offence;
  • The arresting officer held that suspicion on reasonable grounds; and
  • The arresting officer’s reasons for affecting an arrest amounted to a reasonable belief that the arrest was necessary.

So if you have been detained and subsequently no further action was brought against you or if you have been found not guilty at Court, you do not automatically win a case of False Imprisonment against the Police. The test is whether the arresting officer had reasonable suspicion and if so, was your detention necessary in the circumstances.

Essentially, ‘reasonable suspicion’ is ‘more than a hunch’. If the arresting officer’s suspicion is challenged then this should be taken into full account by them before proceeding to detain you. If the arresting officer decides to proceed, they must then believe that you detention is necessary in the circumstances. The usual response that is used by the Police in proving this is Section 24(5)(e) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which is to ‘allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence’; both of which need to be proven.

Even if arrest and/or detention was initially lawful, it can become unlawful because of its duration or the Police’s failure to comply with the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Again, it is for the Police to prove that your detention was lawful ‘minute by minute’. With this in mind, the role of the Custody Sergeant in your continued detention is pivotal.

When one is arrested (other than at a police station), they must be taken to a police station as soon as possible after they have been arrested. The Custody Sergeant must then determine if there is sufficient evidence to justify a charge. Should the Custody Sergeant believe that there is in fact insufficient evidence to charge, then detention should only be authorised if there are reasonable grounds for believing that detention is necessary to secure or preserve evidence relating to the offence that a suspect is under arrest for; or to obtain such evidence by questioning. Otherwise, the suspect should be released with or without bail.

If the Custody Sergeant wishes to proceed, the arrested person may be detained for such period as is necessary. Once detention is authorised, generally the suspect cannot be held for more than 24 hours but this period can be extended up to 36 hours in exceptional circumstances. During this said detention, the same must be reviewed within 6 hours of the detention first being authorised by the Custody Sergeant and then within every 9 hours subsequently by an officer of Inspector rank or higher.

Assault / Battery

As per Section 117 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Police Officers are allowed to use ‘no more than reasonable and necessary force in the purported exercise of their lawful powers’.

If the ‘purported exercise’ was not lawful (such as if there were no reasonable grounds for suspicion in the case of an arrest/detention or there was an unapproved method of restraint used), then the application of force will be unlawful from start to finish and you would therefore be entitled to a financial compensation award for the force used to secure arrest and/or the taking of DNA and fingerprint samples. If the ‘purported exercise’ was lawful, then the question is whether the forced used was excessive which depends upon the circumstances as apparent to the arresting officer at the time.

The above is in reference to when a suspect is not subsequently convicted of the offence that they were arrested for. If a suspect was later convicted, then the assessment of force used upon them during their arrest/detention has to be considered to be ‘grossly disproportionate’ in the arrest/detention circumstances and not whether the force used was more than reasonable and necessary.

Malicious Prosecution

In order to prove malicious prosecution by the Police towards you, you must prove that:

  • The Police were influential in putting the said prosecution against you in motion,
    • You can usually prove this if one or more officers have invented (or one for a better word, lied) about the evidence upon which the charge against you was based.
  • The said prosecution against you was either discontinued, resulted in an acquittal at Court or your conviction was quashed on appeal,
  • The said prosecution may have resulted in provable damage to your reputation, freedom, injury or caused a financial loss,
  • There is a lack of reasonable and probable cause, and
    • Again, this can usually be proven with evidence similar to bullet point one. Essentially, if the Court accepts this then it is obvious that they lacked an honest belief in your ‘guilt’ and a neither would a reasonable person have concluded this either.
  • The Police were motivated by malice (such as spite, ill-will and improper motive).

Misfeasance in Public Office

If no Malicious Prosecution claim is pursued, the tort of Misfeasance in Public Office may be more desirable. Essentially, Misfeasance in Public Office is a civil tort pursued against the holder of a public office following their misuse or abuse of power.

The test to prove this civil tort is to show that:

  • The person whose conduct is in question is a public officer and the conduct was an exercise of his or her power in that capacity,
  • He or she intended to injure you by the exercise of that power or knowingly/recklessly acted in excess of that power,
  • By this, the public officer caused damage to you, and
  • The public officer knew (or anticipated) that the act would probably cause damage of the kind actually caused.

In relation to bullet point two of this test, ‘bad faith’ on part of the public officer is required to be proved; this is more than a simple mistake. Bad faith can be show to be in existence if it can be proved that the public officer deliberately exercises his or her powers to injure a person and when that said public officer exceeds their powers in the knowledge that they are doing so (or recognises that they might be doing so) but goes ahead anyway.

Trespass

Trespass to Land is ‘any unjustified intrusion by one person upon land in the possession of another’.

The ‘possession’ test means that the claim may be brought by the owner / occupier / tenant of the premises which does include family members. The power for the Police to enter any premises is found Sections 17, 18, and 32 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; or of course, with a search warrant. Although a specific claim for Trespass can be brought on its own, there is potential to bring a claim for breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Negligence

To prove a case of Police Negligence, you must show that:

  • The Police owed you a legal duty of care,
  • The Police breached that said duty,
  • You suffered recoverable damage as a result of their said breach, and
  • This said damage was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the Police’s negligent conduct.

Please note that Police Negligence cases which involve negligence in criminal investigations often lose due to Police Immunity. If you can show that the said Police Negligence was ‘gross’ or there was malice (as mentioned above) on the part of the Police then this said Immunity will not apply.

Other Claims Against the Police

The above mentioned categories are the usual ones that we bring against the Police on behalf of our clients. Of course, there are various other civil actions that can be brought (as mentioned on our ‘Actions Against the Police homepage’.

Please call, email or submit your enquiry so that we can assess and see if you have an actionable Action Against the Police.

Author: Matthew McConville

Photo by Donald Tong from Pexels

Posted in Actions Against the Police

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