Immunity from Negligence


Critically analyse the protection from negligence liability enjoyed by the police service in relation to the investigation and suppression of crime, arising from the decision in Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police [1989] AC 53 as recently upheld by the Supreme Court in Michael v Chief Constable of South Wales Police [2015] UKSC 2?

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According to Law of Tort, Negligence is a part of duty or if one party fails to exercise the standard of care which is required by law, which results in further damage to the party whom the duty was supposed to be owned. Law of Torts focused on the imposition of functions and Liabilities among the parties. A Liability for Torts comes in a different way. Liability generally comes in the law of negligence. Negligence occurs when the conduct falls below the established behaviour of law against the protection need for the unreasonable risk of harm. Jacqueline was known as the final victim of Peter Sutcliffe. Over a span of five years, he had committed 13 murders and 8 attempted murder. A claim was made by Jacqueline mother against the Chief Constable on the grounds due to the negligence in their detention of Sutcliffe. The defendant applied the claim because of the absence of the cause of action, in the arrest of crime, no duty of care was showed by the police. The police were sued on the ground of showing less effectiveness in the work in the previous case. Her point was if the killer was caught sooner, her daughter would have been alive. According to the police, it seems undesirable for them to put more potential on a single victim. A similar thing happened in the Michael v Chief Constable of South Wales.


The capacity of the victims to get compensation from the police for a baseless investigation contrasts to a level with the previous law. The same case came up when Mrs. Hill did the same thing. The motive of Mrs. Hill was to sue the West Yorkshire police for the insufficient care and skill as it wanted to punish the Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, between the period of 1975 and 1981 during the time when the murdering period was on its high. The claim from Mrs. Hill side struck out from the high court as the matter seemed never ending as a question of law. According to the law, no one can sue the police for not preventing anyone’s death. Mrs. Hill did the same thing she directly blamed the police for not preventing her daughter’s death; she cannot directly charge the police for her daughter’s death. The court of law and the House of Lords was collectively against the strike out. Though the House of Lords gave several reasons of policy for dealing properly with Mrs. Hill’s case. But Lord Keith point of view was that the police can be claimed for punishment, whatever they are performing is for the betterment of the general people it comes under their duty. They cannot be given the liability of something directly. Imposing liability for the officers could create an adverse state of the mind of the police force rather a sort of conservative state of mind. The matter of fact was Lord Keith was unable to make decisions regarding the issue of public policy and discretions that are which part of the inquiry to implement or what resources to charge. The result of dealing with such cases was that a lot of valuable police time would have been involved, and trouble and expenses for the preparation were also involved, the most important was the attendance of the witness in the trial. According to Lord Keith, there would be a significant diversion of the manpower of the police force and the most important point was the suppression of crime. But on the other hand, the Lord Temple man assumes that there can be the lack of efficiency if anyone from the force would be charged or be marked as a victim in Any case. Performance in the work might be hampered. He stressed on the point of question which was tough to solve because while addressing such question the court of law needed to consider certain important aspects.  Whether the senior police officer concerned would have the knowledge that Sutcliff was to be regarded as a prime accused, and a report on the suspect here in that is Sutcliff was needed to be given more importance and attention.

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The house of the Lords was satisfied on the fact that the victims cannot straight way sue the police for their prior negligence. This was considered to be wrong for some of the policy reason, that would be police efficiency would not get increased, matter of crime will be ignored or avoided by the police if anytime they are sued on improper grounds, there will be a presence of diversion of resources, causing the courts to make operational and policy decisions were ill-equipped to make. Each point made by Lord Keith and temple man about the case made upon the  west Yorkshire police regarding the multiple murder case of Riper five years campaign was considerably equal to the Metropolitan police about the Worboy’s six year campaign of multiple case of rape[1].

Somewhat same thing happened in the Michael v Chief Constable of South Wales. The fact was that the claimants were the children and parents of Michael who was murdered by her former partner. Seeing all this Ms Michael made a call in the police number 999 where she explained that she was caught with another guy by her ex- boyfriend, when he came at her place. He was threatened to killed. The person who was on the call explained that the fact of killing was not heard by him over the phone[2]. So this excluded the threat to kill. On the basis of the situation Ms Michael again had called on 999 for assistance where she said that she was screaming. But unfortunately the connection was dead on the phone. By the time the police had arrived at the crime place, Ms Michael was killed by stabbing by her former partner. Now the main issue was if the police was responsible or not or had done the duty properly or not[3]. The claimants however claimed that because of the negligence of the police the incident occurred, if the police had come on time the murder might not had happened. So under art 2 of the Human Rights Act 1988 for the breach of the defendants, that the inability to save a public life. But unfortunately the court of appeal the negligence claimed to be dismissed on the basis but ordered that the art to trail should be put to trial. Te claimants appealed on the ground of negligence whereas the police cross appealed the case on the art 2 claim. According to the English Law Lord Toulson states that the general does not imposes any Liability upon the defendant for the harm caused to the inquired party. But there remains to expectations: Where the defendant was in a condition to have control over the third party but has knowingly done anything which further causes to someone if the defendant was unable to take control[4]. Where the Defendant  hope to create  responsibilities for the purpose of saving the claimant under the[5]. Lord Kerr includes a four stages approach to proximity:  A clear mode of association between the defendant and the presence claimant, in which information might be created by the information conveyed to the defendant, but that does not mean the information came to the existence. There can be intense harm to the victim if serious action is not taken. The defendant who may be a person or a agency may be responsible for the protection under those grounds. Without causing danger to himself, the defendant should give the full potential for the purpose of protecting the victim. Proximity depends on the closeness of the association. Here in this case the defendant was not in a situation to have control over the former partner nor there any proper communication between them which could help them in saving the life. As result of this situation the negligence claim got rightly dismissed[6].

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On the other hand, Article 2 resolution depend on the fact whether the answer was clearly heard of the several questions communicated over the phone. The communication was not clear whether the person on the other side of the call was able to understand Ms Michael’s point that she was being threatened by her former boyfriend. Or when the voice was not heard, Ms Michael had repeated her words again and said the things for the second time in a clear way[7]. But the performance of calling the police for help at the right moment, when Ms Michael when she was getting threatened or killed, the immediate response was not sufficient or adequate. The court therefore rejected both the appeal and the cross appeal. Later in the judgement Lord Kerr agreed on the fact that the cross appeal is to be dismissed, basing on the negligence of the defenders liability[8]. Depending upon such cases some elements of proximity was framed a proper communicated way or medium between the claimant and the defendant. it is not necessary that whatever is being communicated to the knowledge . The information should be conveyed in such a way that if no action is taken at that moment serious issue can take place i.e. urgent action is required. The defendant must have to be that person who’s required is the only way for the purpose of being safe at that particular moment. The courts had attempted to differentiate two types of negligence cases. Operational Negligence was due to the direct operation of the police inquiry is caused. So they are responsible for the negligence caused. Thus it was proved in the case of Rigby where the police failed to take responsible care of the precautions taken which results in the high risk of fire, when firing a CS gas into the shop. Similarly in the case of Swinny where the details of a girl were stolen from the police custody and she was harassed by an unknown victim, so this was due to the negligence of the police.

The courts have differentiate these cases as the direct action case on the basis of the Hill Case, where the police grants immunity on the grounds where the claimant has faced loss due to the error made by the police on performing the duty of investigation and protecting the criminals from doing the crime. Actually the Hill principal was formulated for the purpose of providing blanket immunity to cover the negligence made by the police. But the question comes on the mind what was the result of the differentiation between the direct action and the loss caused during the prevention of crime and the investigation lies.

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The fact of Osman was regarding a school teacher. The Teacher Named Paul Paget- Lewis, who had developed an unhealthy relation with his 14 year old pupil, Ahmet Osman. Over a period of months, Ahmet and his family was facing a lot of harassment from the side of Paul Lewis, this all involved criminal damages. The offences or the happening of the situation was informed to the police. But the police were unable to arrest the victim. Later on some day Ahmet’s father was shot dead by Paul Paget and also had harmed seriously to Ahmet. When Paul Paget was arrested, he explained the police how and when what plans he had made, even he had given hints of his action. But unfortunately the police failed to do their work. Then Mrs. Osman after getting the evidence of a very careless and unsatisfactory investigation, she further challenged the negligent duties of the police. She sued the commissioner of the Metropolitan police for acting so negligently in those matters. Later the case was dismissed in the high court in the initial hearing. The court stated that there creates an argue which is based on a very close proximity between the teacher, police and the family. However the court held that on the basis of the public policy grounds the case cannot be distinguished. Mc Cowan LJ stated that these above case moves to the ground of failure as on the House of Lords decision on the basis of the public policy immunity[9].He also stated that the falls on the judgement of the House of Lords decision. So it was on that stage that if Mrs. Osman wanted to continue the case the only things involved will be time, trouble and expenses because reasonable causes and cases were not present. So the case was closed as no action was taken rather in the absence of causes. Later for the purpose of getting justice Mrs. Osman moved the case to the European court of Human rights. The decision made in the Osman case has made precedent for the judgement that is the case can be extended to any other courts. Therefore permissions were granted over the police to apply absolute immunity, was considered on the public grounds. The decisions showed on the Brooks and Smith, explained that the application of the Hill principal was really a problematic matter, the matter is merely undefined. It was Lord Keith stated that immunity for the police can only be granted on the grounds when inquiry could be caused during the period of any investigation and suppression of crime. The duty of investigation and suppression extent to the point where the scope of the suppression of crime and investigation stretches, but there also appears some of the limits to this application. Later McIvor’s gives decision where he decision matches with the case of Calveley v chief Constable of Mersey-side police where the police was supposed to assume direct inquiry on the side of the victim. But the house f lords granted immunity from the side of the police without differentiating between investigation, suppression of crime and direct harm[10]. The decision has made it clear that the scope of the hill is somewhat undefined that is the immunity in favour of the police will no longer be considered to the suppression and investigation of crime. The problem on the hand is stretched to such a level, that the foundations have become thin. So lastly without getting any solution to the matter, McIvor states that if the cases of the brooks and Smith are not challenged, the principal of the matter cannot be understood and further be implemented. Because the case was moving towards injustice[11].

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So yet it was not made clear by the court that there will be no imposition on the functions of the police. Then because of all this uncertainties of this scope of the above mentioned Hill case, it was decided that time has come for the reformation.

Public Reasoning:

Public reasoning which became the most important feature of the judicial development of the tort law. The policy considered that when a duty is imposed on the police it is their duty to avoid negligence during the investigation ad suppression of crime. The fact that comes out is that imposing duty upon the police will lead them to assume defensive practises along with the performance of powers and duties. Since after Lord Reid’s oration the courts changed their way of reasoning. The reasoning developed in Hill, makes a decision regarding the current law on the basis of the negligence of the police. Justifications were analysed. Therefore on the basis of the public policy and their reasoning, immunity was granted by the courts. It was the efforts of Lord Keith’s point of views which provides which creates a strong spinal for the considerations for the claims on the negligence. The claims of the negligence had received judicial support[12]. On the other hand Smith Lord Carswell granted that supreme importance on the ground of law, which states that the police must accomplish their work in spite of everything, duty comes first[13]. That mentally should b there among the officers. It was also stated by Lord Hope that the police should make an investigation after knowing a threat message or call whether the threat or call is actually genuine.


This topic finally focuses on the fact that whether absolutely immunity is totally justified in the reasoning of the public policy. The law of the police negligence had adversely affected some of the cases like here mentioned, arising from the decision given in the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police and also in the case of Michael v Chief Wales Police[14], where negligence became the primary factor of all the odds that had happened. The decisions of the courts also have not settled the matters firstly but later it came to a situation where justifications were essential for the purpose of future achievement. Different advocates had placed their concerns and judgements depending upon the situations and future benefits. At some situation the police officer were set free depending upon the fact that they may get demotivated and may not show any further efforts in the long run. But later it was showed through various cases how the negligence in performing the duties had lead to the death of the innocent peoples and the victims were successful in performing their work. So lastly the courts gave decision where the cases which were stuck out of the court’s decision were again brought up for the final decisions. The decisions focus on the fact that negligence can cause a serious harm to the life of the people. In the above mentioned cases, life could have been saved if the police had investigated depending upon the messages given over phone. Sometimes the messages are not genuine, but certain cases are there where mischievous acts were done. The law laid on the public police justification, state that liability cannot be completely imposed on the police, society is also an important factor. So society plays a vital role everywhere.

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