Can you sue the Police for negligence when they admit they have made mistakes?
A recent Supreme Court decision has reinforced the long established legal position that the Police cannot be sued for negligence.
In 2009 Joanna Michael was murdered by her former boyfriend. Cyron Williams had broken into Joanna’s home having learned of her new relationship, he made threats to kill her. Joanna called 999. The call was taken by Gwent Police before being transferred to South Wales Police. The call should have been graded as requiring an immediate response but was wrongly downgraded to a lower level. Joanna made a second 999 call but by the time the Police arrived at Joanna’s home, she had been stabbed 72 times.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that both South Wales and Gwent Police had made mistakes.
Joanna’s family issued court proceedings for negligence against both police forces, hoping to secure compensation to help support her 2 children. The Court of Appeal had previously ruled that the claim could not succeed as the Police have immunity from negligence claims. This decision has now been upheld by the Supreme Court.
This is a tragic case. A young mother’s life has been ended in a brutal way. Her death may have been prevented if the Police had not wrongly downgraded her call and had attended her home immediately. It may appear a harsh decision to prevent her family from claiming compensation where the Police themselves have admitted their errors. Against this we have to consider the position of the Police. The Police have to be able to carry out their duties without the fear of being sued for every action they take. If the Police could be sued, their precious resources would be spent trying to avoid claims rather than being used to benefit and protect the greater community. This is the public policy reasoning behind the Court’s decision.
There are no easy answers to cases such as Joanna’s, but certainly for the time being the only person that can be held liable, is the person that causes the actual harm.
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