Supreme Court grant permission to appeal in Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire

 

Supreme Court grant permission to appeal in Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [2014] P.I.Q.R. P14 in order to re examine the Hill immunity and liability for the police in negligence. 

 

This is the latest development in the battle over the meaning of the general rule that the police cannot be sued in negligence. On 3 August 2016 the Supreme Court (Hale, Toulson & Reed JSCs) granted permission to appeal to Mrs Robinson; she was an innocent bystander in her late 70s who was knocked over and severely injured when 2 policeman fell on top of her whilst “negligently” effecting the arrest of a suspected drug dealer. The execution of the arrest was found to be negligent at 1st instance but the claim failed because the police were held to be immune. She appealed but the Court of Appeal, again on the basis that the general rule applied, dismissed her appeal and allowed the police cross appeal against the findings that the arresting officers were negligent. The appeal will involve a reconsideration of the court’s judgment in Michael v South Wales Police [2015] A.C. 1732 where by a majority the court declined to abolish the immunity, preferring instead to provide an alternative explanation (the omissions principle) for its continuing validity.

 

There are 4 important issues which have not been settled by the Michael case:

 

1.   Did Michael decide that the Hill immunity only stops a case based on a pure omission by the police to prevent damage caused by a  failure to control a 3rd party criminal?

2.   What is a pure omission and how is the law to differentiate it from a case like Mrs Robinson’s where the damage is caused directly by the police and the cause of action is based either on a careless positive act or a case consisting of careless acts and omissions?

3.   How in light of Michael should the lower courts apply the general rule to a positive act case, particularly as the majority did not rely upon the traditional public policy arguments to justify the immunity?

4.   What are the parameters of the control exception to the omissions principle (see para 99 of Lord Toulson’s judgment in Michael)?

 

This is a welcome but unexpected development given that the Michael judgment was only delivered in February 2015, it shows that the law is still seen as unsatisfactory in this area.  If the logic of the Michael judgment is confirmed it is difficult to see why local authorities remain liable for omissions in the field of child protection.  The court will examine again the scope of the immunity / general rule that the police cannot be sued in negligence for omissions / acts connected with the investigation and suppression of crime.

 

Please email any inquiries on the Hill immunity / police negligence to n.bowen@doughtystreet.co.uk

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