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Part 20 claims against police officers: unusual but not unprecedented

Last October Gilbart J gave judgment in Mohidin & Ors v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis & Ors [2015] EWHC 2740 (QB), a case involving allegations of racially aggravated assault, unlawful arrest and false imprisonment against four officers within the Metropolitan Police Service. The litigation was unusual in that the Commissioner had opted to bring Part 20 claims against the individual officers, who were separately represented at the trial. In the recent, supplementary judgment ([2016] EWHC 105 (QB)), Gilbart J has allowed the Commissioner’s claims for indemnity in respect of damages and costs against the officers who acted unlawfully.

The successful Claimants Mohidin and Khan brought claims against the Defendant Commissioner regarding the conduct of four police officers (the Third to Sixth Parties). The Commissioner brought proceedings against the officers under CPR Part 20, and findings of liability were made in respect of the actions of two of the four officers: the Third and Sixth Parties. The claims regarding the conduct of the Fourth and Sixth Parties were dismissed.

Accordingly, after the main judgment was handed down, the Commissioner pursued his Part 20 claims against the Third and Sixth Parties in respect of the damages and costs which he had accepted liability to pay to the successful Claimants by virtue of s. 88 of the Police Act 1988, together with the associated costs of bringing the Part 20 claims.

Gilbart J has confirmed that the Commissioner was entitled to recover an indemnity, alternatively a contribution, from the relevant Additional Parties by virtue of sections 1 and 6 of the Civil Liability Contribution Act 1978. He has concluded that:

1. The two officers against whom “serious tortious misconduct” had been proved bore “responsibility for the damage in question” as required by s. 2 CLCA 1978 (paras. 27, 30, 32, 35);

2 The Third Party, (then) PC Mark Jones, was “wholly responsible” for the damage suffered by Mr Mohidin and was therefore liable for 100% of the damages and costs payable to him (paras. 36(i) and 57(v)(a));

3. The Third and Fifth Parties were both responsible for the physical assault and false imprisonment of Mr Khan, with PC Jones’ racial abuse and subsequent humiliation of Mr Khan having been “at the very least condoned by” his then Sergeant, William Wilson. This resulted in a split in liability for damages and costs of 60% for Jones and 40% for Wilson (paras. 36(iii) and (iv); 57(v)(b) and (vi)).

The Commissioner had adopted a neutral stance in the litigation due to a conflict in the evidence between the four Additional Parties and a fifth police officer within the MPS who had also been involved in the index incident. Gilbart J observed that one of the consequences had been that the Commissioner had not been able to accept a Part 36 offer made by the Claimants (having not pleaded a positive case against them), which they had bettered at trial. Because it was the Commissioner’s choice to adopt a neutral approach, the costs to be paid by the Additional Parties will be assessed on the standard as opposed to indemnity basis (paras. 44 and 57).

As Gilbart J recognised, in very many cases the chief constable or commissioner will accept responsibility for meeting claims in which “an officer, faced with a difficult situation may make a misjudgment, or overreact, and may then face allegations of tortious conduct” (para. 34(i)).

It was neither unreasonable nor disproportionate to issue Part 20 proceedings in this case because:

“This was not a case of an officer going too far in defending himself, or being provoked by an offender into some excessive or over robust restraint. […] this was a bad case of police officers taking the law into their own hands and engaging in an oppressive manner, and in PC Jones’ case, one that was also racist.” (para. 34(ii));

“It is unlikely to be desirable for Part 20 proceedings against individual officers to become routine. However, it remains a valid option to seek a contribution or indemnity from officers whose conduct is proven to have been particularly egregious or abusive. This allows forces to recuperate the damages and costs of associated claims and, it must be hoped, to deter individual officers from behaving unlawfully in the first place.”

John Beggs QC and Cecily White acted for the Commissioner
Stephen Morley acted for the Additional Parties