The Police Do Not Owe Any Common Law Duty of Care to Protect Individuals Against Harm (By Criminals) – And You Can’t Sue Them If They Fail To Attend When You Call Them [Video]
Does the above statement sound a bit ‘odd’ to you? Especially the first part about the Police not owing a common law duty of care to protect the public against harm?
It may sound at odds with what the police are there to do, primarily protect the public, but the fact of the matter is that the statement is true, as you will find if you read on.
I have been teaching personal safety and self-defence for many years and on occasion I have run courses for local groups with the police who have been there to give crime prevention advice and I have heard many police officers say the following: “If you feel at risk always call the police”, and be careful “not to take the law into your own hands”.
The Purpose of Having a Police Service is to Discourage Vigilantism
I have also interviewed many high profile lawyers in my time and one Professor of Law stated that the purpose of having a police service is to discourage vigilantism; people taking the law into their own hands and (as opposed to self-defence) acting pro-actively to prevent potential crime.
And this is fine, provided that you are protected by the state, and why shouldn’t you have that expectation?
Shouldn’t the state protect you as an honest citizen?
If there’s an emergency and you call 999 don’t you have a right to expect the police to promptly come to your aid?
However, It Seems That The Chance of Getting The Police To Attend Are Reducing Rapidly.
For example, it was reported on Monday 31st August 2015 in the Guardian that planned government spending cuts will see at least 22,000 police jobs being lost, leaving the public protected by the lowest numbers of officers since the 1970s, according to a private estimate circulating among police chiefs.
If any other organisation in the UK failed to adequately protect its staff and others it (for example by not having adequate staff in duty to ensure that the duty of care owed to its staff and service users was complied with), it could be prosecuted under various pieces of statute and common law for negligence.
Therefore, this raises an interesting question which is: Could you sue the police if you called them and they didn’t show up in your time of need?
Interestingly The Law Says You Can’t.
Recent well-established rulings of the highest courts of the land have stated that individual police officers do not owe a “duty of care” to members of the public in the course of their crime-fighting functions.
The Hill Rule
In Hill v Chief Constable West Yorkshire Police  1 AC 53, the case involved the notorious Yorkshire Ripper who murdered 13 women in West Yorkshire between 1975 and 1980.
The mother of the last victim alleged that the police made numerous mistakes during their allegedly incompetent investigation.
The House of Lords issued a ruling starting with the basic assumption that the allegations were true and that Peter Sutcliffe, labelled by the media as the Yorkshire Ripper, could have been captured before he murdered her daughter.
Nevertheless, it was held that the police were under no liability in negligence. The ruling established what is known as the Hill principle which, in effect, gives the police general immunity from negligent actions in the investigation and suppression of crime.
The Brooks Case
The House of Lords upheld the principle in another high profile case Brooks v Comr of Police of the Metropolis  1 WLR 1495.
The claimant was with Stephen Lawrence when he was murdered in a vicious racist attack by a gang of white youths.
He said he was traumatised by the incident and that the police owed him a duty of care in negligence and to give him reasonably appropriate protection and support.
The House of Lords, however, held that the police owed him no such legal duty of care and endorsed the correctness of the Hill principle.
The Van Colle Case
The issue was addressed once more by the House of Lords four years later in Van Colle and another v Chief Constable of Hertfordshire  1 AC 225.
The claimant, in this case, was a man who told a police inspector he thought his life was in danger from another man with whom he’d broken up.
During their relationship, he’d suffered violence and afterwards, he’d received numerous violent, abusive and threatening messages, including death threats.
A week after reporting his fears to the police inspector his former partner attached him with a claw hammer fracturing his skull and causing brain damage.
The assailant was later convicted of making threats to kill and causing grievous bodily harm with intent. Nevertheless, the House of Lords held by a majority that the police owed the victim no duty of care in negligence.
The Robinson Case
In Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police  EWCA Civ 15, the Court of Appeal considered the case of a woman knocked to the ground and injured during the arrest of an alleged drug-dealer.
The Court of Appeal unanimously found that the police had not acted negligently.
The court said that in order for a “duty of care” to arise three criteria had to be satisfied: a) foreseeability of damage; b) a relationship of proximity; and c) whether it is fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty.
The Michael Case
In spite of all of the precedents, the Supreme Court in 2013 granted permission to appeal in another police duty of care case, Michael and others v Chief Constable of South Wales Police and another  2 WLR 343.
The claimant, Joanna Michael, called 999 and told them that her ex-boyfriend was going to come home and had threatened to kill her.
Police errors handling the call led to officers arriving after she had been stabbed to death.
In this case, too, the court didn’t find against the police.
The Osman Case
The European Court of Human Rights stepped into the issue with a decision in 1998 regarding a case that, as with Van Colle and Michael, concerned threats against an individual about which the police should have been aware.
The case involved the disturbing attachment of a school teacher, Paul Paget-Lewis, towards one of his pupils, 14-year-old Ahmet Osman.
There were multiple complaints to police who investigated. It ultimately led the teacher to shoot and kill Ahmet’s father and wound the teenager.
He [Paget-Lewis] then shot and injured the deputy headmaster and killed his son.
Paget-Lewis was later detained in a secure mental facility after pleading guilty on the ground of diminished responsibility to two charges of manslaughter.
In Osman v UK  29 EHRR 245 Ahmet and his mother argued there had been a failure to protect lives and protect the family from harassment. And that they had been denied access to a court or to any other effective remedy.
As part of its ruling the Court of Human Rights said that there had been no violation of Article 2 “Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law…” or of Article 8 “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”
However they did find that the exclusionary rule formulated by the House of Lords in Hill which, in effect, provides a watertight defence to a civil action against police was a breach of Article 6: “In the determination of his civil rights…everyone is entitled to a hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”
The Bottom Line
In general, you’re not going to have a successful suit against the police for failing to act when called – with a few special limited exceptions.
Under the European Convention on Human Rights you can sue the police for failing to act if their omission is a breach of Article 2 (the right to life), Article 3 (the right to freedom from torture) or Article 4 (the right to freedom from slavery).
In simple terms, for any possibility of success in suing the police someone would have to have died or been tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment or slavery as a result of the police inaction.
The public at large certainly feels that they have a right to prompt, efficient action from the police – especially in emergency situations – and that the police should be held to account if they fail to provide protection.
However, the courts have ruled otherwise.
In the past in NHS Mental Health Units, when a situation was getting to a point of violence beyond which NHS staff could control they called the police.
This is because the NHS wouldn’t train their staff to a higher level or give them the appropriate equipment because it wasn’t consistent with the ‘caring’’ nature of a healthcare environment.
Currently, the police are now no longer responding to calls for assistance from NHS Mental Health Units.
This is resulting in NHS staff having to be trained to a higher level of restraint and defence to enable them to do what the police would have been called to do, and these Trusts have to do this otherwise they will be in breach of the duty of care owed to its staff and patients.
In just one major city in the UK, there are approximately seventy-five thousand citizens. Yet on any given night of the week, you will be lucky if there are more than a dozen police officers on duty.
This means that when you call the police they may or may not arrive dependent upon the numbers they have available.
And, if they are willing to respond how long will it take them to get to you? Fifteen minutes, half-an-hour, an hour, who knows?
This raises this question: What are you going to do in the meanwhile if you are confronted with a violent person who is intending you or your family harm? Sit and wait for an agency that actually doesn’t have to respond because they do not owe a duty of care to you or protect yourself and your family?
Expect nothing from the state except your passport and your ticket home to a prison of your country’s choice. A free hotel for you and your kind.
Ralph Steadman is not only a great artist. He also has a way with words. His quote above was made in the context of a passionate explanation of his belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948.
It is not Just Good To Learn Self-Defence – It is Your Right.
The law discourages acts of vigilantism but the law does say that you can act in self-defence. This is enshrined in our statute and common law and now encapsulated into Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.
What the law provides is for a person to act in self-defence based on the facts as they “honestly and instinctively believed them to be” and that they are “not expected to weigh up the nicety the exact measure of the defensive action”.