Report No. 277
(iii) UK Police Act, 1996
3.11 Also noteworthy is the section 88 of the UK Police Act 1996, that deals with the 'Liability for wrongful acts of constables'. This section lays down the remedy and procedure in the aforesaid cases. It makes the chief officer of police liable in respect of any unlawful conduct of constables under his direction and control in the performance of their functions, in like manner as a master is liable in respect of torts committed by his servants in the course of their employment; and, accordingly shall as in the case of a tort, be treated for all purposes as a joint tortfeasor. It further provides for payment of any damages or settlement amount, for such cases, out of the police fund.
3.12 In Hill v. Chief Constable of West Yorkshire28, the House of Lords held that police officers did not owe a duty to individual members of the public who might suffer injury through their careless failure to apprehend a dangerous criminal. The conduct of a police investigation involves a variety of decisions on matters of policy and discretion, including decisions as to priorities in the deployment of resources. To subject those decisions to a common law duty of care, and to the kind of judicial scrutiny involved in an action in tort, was held to be inappropriate.
3.13 In Brooks v. Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis & Ors.,29 the House of Lords approving the decision in Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (supra), reformulated the principle in terms of an absence of a duty of care rather than a blanket immunity, noting that "it is, of course, desirable that police officers should treat victims and witnesses properly. But to convert that ethical value into general legal duties of care. would be going too far. The prime function of the police is the preservation of the Queen's peace. A retreat from the principle in Hill would have detrimental effects for law enforcement."
3.14 In Robinson v. Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire Police,30 the UK Supreme Court explained the scope of the common law duty of care owed by police when their activities lead to injuries being sustained by members of the public. It has long been the case that a claim cannot be brought in negligence against the police, where the danger is created by someone else, except in certain unusual circumstances such as where there has been an assumption of responsibility.
This case, however, was focused on the question of injuries resulting from activities of the police, where the danger was created by their own conduct. The Court held that the police did owe a duty of care to avoid causing an injury to a member of the public in those circumstances. The Court while taking note of public law duties of the police further noted as follows in relation to their private law duties:
It follows that there is no general rule that the police are not under any duty of care when discharging their function of preventing and investigating crime. They generally owe a duty of care when such a duty arises under ordinary principles of the law of negligence unless statute or the common law provides otherwise. Applying those principles, they may be under a duty of care to protect an individual from a danger of injury which they have themselves created, including a danger of injury resulting from human agency, as in Dorset Yacht and Attorney General of the British Virgin Islands v. Hartwell. Applying the same principles, however, the police are not normally under a duty of care to protect individuals from a danger of injury which they have not themselves created, including injury caused by the conduct of third parties, in the absence of special circumstances such as an assumption of responsibility.