A review of the reported legal decisions 2014 relating to policing demonstrates that many of the old risk areas for litigation continued to trouble chief police officers, and increasingly Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). While it is difficult for a force to protect itself from litigation following unpredictable major events, such as the London riots, there are particular aspects of policing where forces continue to face repeated litigation, or trends suggest that claims are likely to increase in the future.
The public scrutiny of police activity, and the rights of individual members of the public to bring action when their rights are infringed, are truly fundamental features of open democracy. A certain amount of civil litigation is probably an inevitable feature of modern policing. However, Chief Officers and PCCs ought to be examining carefully whether there are aspects of their police operations that are generating excessive civil claims. Reducing the incidence of such claims ought to improve the standards of policing as well as reducing the annual drain on policing budgets caused by legal claims and their associated costs.
A recent High Court case has recognised the heightened ethical and public law duty on Chief Officers when a Force provides references to outside bodies regarding officers who are leaving the police. The duty is particularly pertinent to situations where officers leave under the cloud of potential or pending disciplinary proceedings.
Following the death of Ian Tomlinson, the spotlight has been on internal police vetting procedures and how to ensure that information about an officer’s misconduct history is shared at the relevant points, such as when an officer seeks to transfer or re-join a force. The decision in AB v A Chief Constable  EWHC 1965 (QB) recognises a need to be just as alert, and where necessary to share information about, officers who are leaving the police force altogether.
The obtaining and execution of search warrants remains an area of operational risk for the police. The margin for error is often narrow. In two cases in the last year the courts have provided useful and important clarification of issues concerning search warrants that had not previously been definitively determined. Further guidance has also been given on how search warrant applications should be drafted, and the impact that disclosure obligations have on the process. Judicial guidance can sometimes (understandably) be overlooked by officers, but will be relied upon in any subsequent challenge. This article highlights the guidance given in recent cases which has important practical implications.
On 7 August 2014 judgment was given in the Administrative Court in the case of Woods and Gorton v Chief Constable of Merseyside Police  EWHC 2784 (Admin). The decision has important implications for all forces in the operation of service confidence policies (SCP). The Court held that:
- decisions under the SCP were amenable to judicial review;
- where reasons for the policy’s use in a particular case cannot be disclosed as a result of public interest immunity, then the threshold for judicial interference in the decision is very high;
- the test is whether there is clear evidence of dishonesty, bias or caprice.
Central to the decision that the court should not intervene in this case was the finding at a separate hearing, by a different judge, that the reasons for the decisions under the SCP were subject to Public Interest Immunity (PII) and could not be disclosed.