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Brooks v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2005] 1 WLR 1495

[2005] 2 All ER 489;[2005] UKHL 24; [2005] Po LR 157; (2005) 155 NLJ 653

NEGLIGENCE, DUTY OF CARE, POLICE DUTIES, INVESTIGATION OF SUSPECTED CRIME, DUTY OF CARE OWED TO VICTIMS,

DUTY OF CARE OWED TO WITNESSES

Facts

The claimant and his friend, who were black, were attacked by white youths. The claimant was dealt with by the police in a way that was subsequently subjected to severe criticism in the report of the inquiry into the matters arising from the friend’s death. The victim claimed damages against the police for negligence, false imprisonment, misfeasance in public office and breach of s. 20 Race Relations Act 1976. The judge struck out his action. The claimant appealed. The Court of Appeal allowed his appeal in relation to three duties of care allegedly owed to him by the police – to take reasonable steps to assess whether the claimant was a victim of a crime, to accord him reasonably appropriate protection, assistance and support as a key eye-witness to a serious crime and to afford reasonable weight to the account that he had given. The defendants appealed to the House of Lords relying on Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1988] 2 WLR 1049.

Issue

Do the police owe a general duty of care to victims and witnesses in respect of their activities when investigating suspected crimes?

Held

The appeal was allowed and the claimant’s action struck out.

(1) As a matter of public policy, the police owe no general duty of care to victims and witnesses in respect of their activities when investigating suspected crimes. Such a duty would cut across the freedom of action the police should have when investigating serious crime.

(2) The core principle of Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1988] 2 WLR 1049 still stand, but they need to be judged in light of the legal policy and the Human Rights Act 1998.

(3) The three alleged duties of care were inextricably bound up with the police function of investigating crime and therefore, the claim was struck out.


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