In Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police  UKSC 4, the Supreme Court made significant inroads into the principle that the police cannot be sued in negligence save in exceptional circumstances as a result of alleged failures in their core operational duties. Now, where a third party such as a pedestrian is injured as a result of a negligent arrest on the street by a police officer, the police are liable in negligence where that injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the police’s actions
This is the most important police law case for a generation. It goes to the heart of when a duty of care will be imposed on the police for the performance of their operational duties. The news is very bad if you are a Chief Constable. The news is very good if you are a claimant (or defendant) lawyer.
A police officer shot an unarmed suspect, wrongly thinking he was aiming a gun. A claim for damages in Davis v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis  EWHC 38 (QB) failed because the officer was reasonably and honestly mistaken and acted in self-defence. Briefing the officer with inaccurate information was not negligent because the suspect was not owed a duty of care.
The story of PC David Rathband, shot and blinded by Raoul Moat on 4th July 2010, and his subsequent suicide in February 2012, is one of the most traumatic for the police service in recent years. Prior to his death he had commenced legal proceedings against the Chief Constable of Northumbria Constabulary arising out of the shooting. The claim was carried on after his death by his brother and sister, on behalf of his dependants and estate.
Two weeks ago the High Court gave its judgment in Rathband v Chief Constable of Northumbria  EWHC 181 (QB). It dismissed the claim in negligence brought against the Chief Constable of Northumbria Police. In doing so the Court had to determine where the balance lay between the competing principles that (1) a Chief Constable owes a duty of care to serving officers, and (2) the immunity from suit in negligence that a Chief Constable generally enjoys in relation to operational decisions.
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.