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.
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.
In Finnigan v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police  EWCA Civ 1191 the Court of Appeal found that when police officers wants to carry out a search a deaf person’s home, they have to make reasonable adjustments by considering what is reasonable for deaf persons as a class rather than the deaf person whose home is being searched.
In Alleyne v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis  EWHC 3955 (QB) the High Court awarded damages to a householder accidentally injured during a forced entry by multiple police officers executing a search warrant.