In the case Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police a woman was knocked down by police officers during a drug bust gone wrong.
The victim sought reparation against the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police claiming that the police had acted negligently and had caused her damages. The claimant appealed her case after the claims for rejected.
The Court of appeal decided unanimously in 2017, that the police had not acted negligently are we’re protected by an immunity.
The claimant argued that the test for negligence given in Caparo vs Dickman was applicable. The test consists of saying that a duty of care arises when three conditions are established. First of all, the “harm must be reasonably foreseeable as a result of the defendant’s conduct”. Secondly that “the parties must be in a relationship of proximity”. Finally that “it must be fair, just and reasonable to impose liability.”
The court of appeal came to the conclusion in this case that the third condition, the necessity of fairness was not established. For the court : “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.” (paragrpah 39) By this the court means to say that it would not be fair to impose a duty of care on policemen who are trying to stop a drug dealer if they accidentally harm a passerby because their intention was to stop someone who could cause a lot of damage to many people. The interests of the population in it’s whole, which is what the police try to protect, outweighs the interests of one person who was accidentally hurt. As Lord Hallet LJ said : “‘It would not be fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty on police officers doing their best to get a drug dealer off the street safely”. (paragraph 51)
The court based their reasoning on another case : Hill v Chief constable of West Yorkshire from 1987. In this case a mother blamed the police of negligence for her daughters murder by a notorious serial killer. The mother claimed that if the police had been more careful they would have been able to arrest the murderer before he killed her daughter.
The Court deemed that : “the police were generally immune from actions for negligence in respect of their activities in the investigation and suppression of crime (paragrpah 13) (Lord Kieth). It was decided that although the police had a duty of care for the public in general, duty of care could not be imposed when it concerned one private individual. “The police are generally immune concerning the investigation and suppression of crime.”
“There was no general duty of care owed to members of the public to identify and apprehend an unknown killer.”
Lord Keith stated that allowing such an immunity would result in : “A significant diversion of police manpower and attention from their most important function, that of the suppression of crime. Closed investigations would require to be reopened and retraversed, not with the object of bringing any criminal to justice but to ascertain whether or not they had been competently conducted.”
This case does not render duty of care of the police for individuals impossible but only make those cases exceptional. There is no blanket immunity that can never be overturned but only a will to limit the cases in which such a duty of care is imposed on the police force.
The police, in my opinion, has to protect civilians. If not, then justice would be taken into the hands of individuals and justice would no longer be. Redemption and revenge would reek havoc. One must feel safe in their everyday lives and to assure balance, this security needs to be instituted by a neutral, controlled institution invested with this specific power.
However for the police to be able to work effectively needs to be protected by the law. Indeed, terrible incidents happen everyday and human nature dictates that we find someone to blame. The police is often the subject of this blame, even if they did all they could do. If the police had to justify itself for every murder, robbery, vandalism then the service would no longer work.
I believe that this is the stance that the courts in the U.K have adopted, although they have adopted a very strict positon.
In Robinsons, I feel that it is justified to not impose a duty of care on the police because they we’re trying to do their job and arresting a drug dealer prevents for a lot more crime to be committed. The police’s time and ressources therefore need to be protected from such action to be taken against them, and in this sense a certain immunity is needed.
I don’t believe this immunity should’ve been applied in Michael’s v South Wales Police. The incident was to begin much more severe that in Robinsons, being knocked over cannot be compared to losing one’s life. Furthermore, the victim