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Police - Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (Court of Appeal)

  • Legal Development 5 February 2014 5 February 2014

The Court of Appeal found that a victim of crime was not allowed to proceed with her claim in negligence for damages for personal injuries against police officers engaged in the apprehension of an offender. The test in Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman applied and, in the circumstances, the police did not owe her a duty of care.

Police - Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (Court of Appeal)

The appellant, whilst walking down a public street, became caught up in the arrest of a drug dealer and was knocked to the ground and injured. Police officers had sought to detain a suspect in the street but the suspect put up such resistance that the group moved up the street and involved the claimant. Robinson brought a claim against the police, arguing that they owed her a duty of care in negligence.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the claimant’s arguments. Hallet LJ clarified that although the test for negligence given in Caparo v Dickman [1990] 2 A.C. 605 applies to all cases, there are cases where it will not be fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty where the interests of the public at large may outweigh the interests of the individual allegedly wronged.

It was reiterated, following the case of Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989] A.C. 53 that there was a need to prevent defensive policing and to protect the public. It would fundamentally undermine that objective to hold the police liable for direct but not indirect acts and would encourage the police to avoid positive action for the fear of being sued. The principle did not impose “blanket immunity” but instead allowed for exceptional cases in which the police did owe a duty of care. This principle does not however require a finding of outrageous negligence.

COMMENT: This case further enforced the view that in regards to holding the police liable for harm caused to by-standers, although there is no “blanket immunity” offered to the police, it would not be in the public interest to hold them accountable for direct or indirect harm incurred as a result of them carrying out their duties to protect the public as a whole, unless in exceptional circumstances.

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