Civil Actions Against Police
When a person is arrested they are understandably upset. Sometimes people are handcuffed and detained in a police cell. On occasions it is ultimately established that they have committed no offences and this can of course be aggravated if they have never been in trouble with the police before.
Whilst understandably so such conduct goes to the heart of people’s human rights in terms of loss of liberty this by itself does not give rise to a claim for damages against the police. However, subject to consideration of the facts of the claim it may give rise to causes of action for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and battery (if handcuffs are used).
To pursue a claim for wrongful arrest the burden is on the Chief Constable of any police authority to justify the arrest.
A constable may arrest without warrant:-
- Anyone who is about to commit an offence
- Anyone who is in the act of committing an offence
- Anyone who he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be about to commit an offence
- Anyone who he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an offence
If a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed he may arrest without warrant anyone who he has reasonable grounds to suspect of being guilty of it.
If an offence has been committed a constable may arrest without warrant:-
- Anyone who is guilty of the offence
- Anyone who he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of it
Whilst the above criteria is helpful in understanding arrest without warrant conditions the Power of Arrest Summary as set out in the above paragraphs is only exercisable if the constable has reasonable grounds for believing it is necessary to arrest the person in question.
The necessity reasons are:-
- To enable the name of the person in question to be ascertained (in a case where the constable does not know and cannot readily ascertain the persons name or has reasonable
grounds for doubting whether a name given by the person as his name is his real name
- Correspondingly as regards to the persons address;
- To prevent the person:
- Causing physical injury to himself or any other person
- Suffering physical injury
- Causing loss of or damage to property
- Committing an offence against public decency
- Causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway
- To protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person in question
- To allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person
- To prevent any prosecution for the offence being hindered by the disappearance of the person in question
Such provisions are contained within Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and the Code of Practice for the Statutory Power of Arrest by police officers.
Whilst the above criteria is helpful in establishing whether a prima facie case exists. Breach of the code itself will not ordinarily give rise to a civil claim for damages against the Chief Constable. There are a number of legal principles which apply to arrest which have to be considered when ascertaining
whether or not the arrest was lawful.
Taking the above matters into consideration it is therefore necessary when looking at the general principles of arrest the court must look at both the officer’s reasonable suspicion and whether the arrest itself was necessary. In this context the court must look at the state of mind of the arresting officer to determine whether he/she had the requisite suspicion and determine what material he was relying on to provide “reasonable grounds” for the arrest and whether the arrest was “necessary”. In relation to the first condition (reasonable grounds to suspect) there are three questions to be
- Did the arresting officer suspect that the person who was arrested was guilty of the offence? The answer to this question depends entirely on the findings of fact as to the officers state of
- Assuming that the officer had the necessary suspicion was there reasonable cause for that
suspicion? This is a purely objective requirement to be determined by the Judge and if necessary on facts found by a Jury;
- If the answer to the previous questions is in the affirmative then the officer has a disgression which entitles him to make an arrest and in relation to that disgression the question arises as to whether disgression has been exercised in accordance with something known as the Wednesbury Provisions.
Following a change of the law in January 2006 the necessity condition was addition to Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Whilst this has not been subject to detailed analysis of law it is however clear that the same three questions will arise both in relation to reasonable grounds to suspect and reasonable grounds for believing that the arrest was necessary for any of the reasons stated above set out in the Statutory Provisions.
Reasonable Grounds to Suspect
In relation to the subjective question the Chief Constable of the police must prove that the arresting officer did in fact suspect that the arrested person was guilty of the offence for which he was arrested. Evidence of this will come from arresting officer.
In relation to the objective question it has been repeatedly emphasised in case law that the standard of “reasonable cause” or “reasonable grounds” is not a high one. In a number of cases arrests have bee held to have been lawful in situations where there was only a limited amount of evidence against a potential suspect. In this context there have been a number of cases where the courts have held that reasonable grounds to suspect does not have to amount to the arresting officer having sufficient information for a prima facie case.
Indeed, the arresting officer in form of such grounds may rely upon hearsay evidence from a member of the public and once reasonable grounds are present the police have no duty at that stage to make further investigations as to the strength of such evidence.
Necessity of Arrest
As set out above following a recent change of the law and a change in statutory amendments from the 1st January 2006 there is now a second pre-condition to the lawfulness of any arrest. It must be shown that the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe the arrest was “necessary” for one of the number of the stated purposes set out above.
Even if a Chief Constable is able to show that an arrest was lawful there are subsequent provisions that have to be complied with to ensure that the continued detention is lawful. Such provisions are set out in part IV of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 as amended.
After a person has been arrested it is for a custody officer to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to charge a person for the offence for which he has been arrested.
If there is insufficient evidence to charge a person arrested the custody officer must release him or her on bail, unless the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the person’s detention without being charged is necessary to secure and preserve evidence relating to the offence for which he had been arrested or to obtain evidence by questioning.
If there is sufficient evidence for the person he must be charged or released and any breach of Part IV of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act will mean that subsequent detention will be unlawful.
When an arrest takes place a police officer is entitled to use reasonable force to detain the person that he or she is arresting. The use of handcuffs is prima facie unlawful and can only be justified if the arrest was lawful and the use of handcuffs constituted “reasonable force”. It is in this context that the Association of Chief Police Officers has provided guidance on the use of handcuffs and the use of handcuffs depends on the circumstances but in giving advice and guidance reference is often made to an objective basis for believing that a person may escape or may use violence.
If none of these features are present this may well give rise to a claim for damages.
Value of Claim
Guidance in relation to the values of such claims can be obtained from case law and the leading case is that of Thompson –v- The Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis. Following this case the first hour of unlawful arrest and detention is approximately £700 on a reducing scale for a 24 hour
period to £4,200.
In addition to a claim for general damages there may be an argument that a Claimant is entitled to seek aggravated damages which are awarded in addition to general damages or aggravated features and exemplary damages which are awarded to show disapproval of police conduct. Exemplary damages are usually awarded in addition to basic awards where aggravated and basic damages are inadequate as a punishment for a Chief Constable.
This practice has dealt with a number of claims in cases of this nature and each case is dealt with on its facts. However, our specialist department can assist you in establishing whether there may be grounds for a claim under any of the aforementioned distinct headings and discuss with you methods of funding.
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