This is a comprehensive list of causes of action you can bring against the police. A brief definition of each is followed by a... What Can You Sue the Police For?

This is a comprehensive list of causes of action you can bring against the police. A brief definition of each is followed by a more detailed breakdown of the various elements that must be considered to bring a successful claim against the police.

Assault

Battery

False Imprisonment

Trespass

Interference with Goods / Trespass to Goods

Conversion /Wrongful Retention of Goods

Harassment

Negligence

Misfeasance

Malicious Prosecution

Data Protection

Breach of Confidence

Human Rights

Discrimination

Malicious Process

Intimidation

Malicious Falsehood

Defamation

Fatal Accidents

 

Assault

Definition:

Any intentional act by another without lawful excuse which causes a person to reasonably apprehend imminent contact (but none is actually made).

Examples:

A police officer who makes threats to arrest or restrain a person who attempts to leave a scene when they have not been lawfully detained; an officer who threatens to search someone if they do not answer questions.

Details:

The threat must relate to immediate force and not to a threat of future force. As long as the claimant reasonably expects force, the defendant’s ability to supply it is not an issue. Shouting threats from a distance is not an assault as the person receiving them cannot reasonable expect them to be imminent. The need for a threat of force means that mere passive obstruction is not assault as when a person simply stands in front of another in order to obstruct him, but without touching or threatening him. 

Time Limit:

6 years.

Damages:

Claimant may recover damages for mental distress even though he suffers no physical injury.

Defence:

S.117 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

S.3 Criminal Law Act 1967

Case Law:

Thames Valley Police v Hepburn [2002]

Samuels v the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [1999]

 

Battery

Definition:

Unwanted and unlawful hostile contact with a person without lawful excuse

Examples:

Any unlawful search upon a person; a police officer taking a person’s arm to prevent them from leaving when they have not been detained; pushing a door against an occupant to gain unlawful entry.

Details:

Touching anyone, no matter how slight, may amount to battery: “the least touching of another in anger is battery”(Cole v Turner 1704). In Ashton v Jennings (1675) a woman pulled another woman back at a funeral to assert social precedence. This was held to be a battery. Taking someone by the arm and leading them away when they have no lawful reason for doing so is also battery (Collins v Wilcock 1984). Everyone is protected not just from injury but from molestation. Incidental contact with someone in a public place does not amount to battery, as to be in crowded public places implies consent to contact of this nature as with all physical contact that is generally acceptable in the ordinary conduct of everyday life.

Time Limit:

6 years.

Damages: 

Claimant may recover damages for distress and humiliation even though he suffers no physical injury whatever.

Defence:

S.117 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

S.3 Criminal Law Act 1967

Case Law:

KD v Chief Constable of Hampshire [2005] 

Haystead v Chief Constable of Derbyshire [2000]

 

False Imprisonment

Definition:

The total restraint of a person’s liberty for any duration and without lawful justification.

Examples:

A stop and account where the officer will not allow the subject to leave; an arrest made without the person being informed as to why they have been arrested; any unlawful stop and search will be false imprisonment as well as battery.

 

Details:

False imprisonment amounts to a total restraint upon a person’s freedom of movement and not a partial restraint.  It can occur within the confinement of a house, a prison, a mine or even in a vehicle. Even the temporary, compulsive detention of a person for a few minutes may constitute false imprisonment. False imprisonment cannot occur simply because your way is blocked, as you may be free to walk the other way. Usually when there is a false imprisonment there will also be an assault or battery. Every person is entitled to use reasonable force to resist any unlawful restraint. There is no false imprisonment where the claimant consents, but he is not to be taken as consenting simply because he does not resist.

Time Limit:

6 years

Damages: 

False imprisonment is actionable without proof of damage or loss.

Defence:

S24 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

Case Law:

Thames Valley Police v Hepburn [2002]

Keegan & Ors v Chief Constable of Merseyside [2003]

Kenlin v Gardner 1967

Lord Hanningfield of Chelmsford v Chief Constable of Essex Police [2013] – Abuse of s.32 PACE

Richardson v The Chief Constable of West Midlands Police [2011] – Arrest at voluntary interview

Liversidge v Anderson [1941]

Samuels v the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [1999]

 

Trespass

Definition:

A person or thing enters your land or property without lawful authority and without express or implied consent.

Examples:

A police officer enters without permission and without the legal authority to do so; a police officer refuses to leave property when asked to do so and without having authority to remain.

Details:

A person is not a trespasser if he is on land with the express or implied permission of the possessor. When a householder lives in a dwelling house to which there is a garden in front and does not lock the gate of the garden, it gives an implied right of access to any member of the public who has lawful reason for doing so to proceed from the gate to the front door or back door. Where an unwanted visitor is told to go, he must leave immediately, and be given a reasonable time to do so. (Robson v Hallett 1967).

If you give a person permission to enter your land and they act in excess of that permission or remain on your land after you have withdrawn permission, then they are committing trespass.

Other forms of trespass are, placing ladders against a wall or throwing things into land.  Even if you do not own the property or have a lawful stake in it you can still bring an action for trespass if it can be shown that you have ‘sufficient possession’ of it. 

Time Limit:

6 years

Damages: 

Trespass is actionable without proof of damage or loss. Nominal.

Defence:

The police have no general common law power to enter private premises without consent or warrant, but they do have a range of statutory powers of entry conferred by PACE under s17 to “arrest for an indictable offence only,” and to rescue life and limb.

A  police officer also has powers to enter premises to prevent a breach of the peace.

Case Law:

O’Loughlin v Chief Constable Of Essex [1997]

Entick v Carrington [1765]

 

Interference with Goods / Trespass to Goods

Definition: 

An intentional or careless direct interference with goods in the claimants possession by either taking the goods from him or by damaging the goods without removing them.

Examples:

The police break into the wrong property or break into a property without lawful authority; damage to property while conducting a search; damage done to goods while in a police officer’s care.

Details:

Trespass to goods is actionable without having to prove there was any damage, although compensation of this type would be nominal. Mere touching of goods can also be considered trespass, such as touching exhibits in a gallery or museum. Trespass to goods is generally confined to intentional interference; accidental interference is best remedied by an action in negligence, although both torts can be pursued simultaneously.

Time Limit:

6 years.

Damages: 

Cost of repair or replacement of goods.

Defence:

If the interference was accidental and non-negligent there is no liability. Careless interference with goods might prefer a claim in negligence rather than trespass.

Case Law:

Vine v London Borough of Waltham Forest [2000] 

White v Withers LLP & Anor [2008]

 

Conversion /Wrongful Retention of Goods

Definition:

Retention of a person’s goods and refusal to return them. 

Examples:

The police unlawfully seize property; the police lawfully seize property but refuse to return it after their authority to retain the property has ended.

Details:

Conversion differs from Interference with Goods inasmuch as conversion is used to assert the right of ownership of property, whereas interference with goods / trespass to goods is appropriate where property has been damaged or altered. Conversion is generally a deprivation of goods that is more than a mere moving. There are also obligations to return items that are subject to legal privilege and special procedure material under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, s 54 and s 55.

Time Limit:

6 years

Compensation:

In most cases the judgement for damages will be for the value of the goods at the time of the conversion together with any consequential loss.

Defence:

Rights to property may be defeated by anyone who can prove a better title to the goods. This is provided for by Section 8 Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 whereby the police can defend a claim in conversion by showing that someone other than the claimant has a better title to the goods, provided they can specify an actual person or organisation.

Section 22 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

Section 143 Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000

Case Law:

Martin v Chief Constable of the Nottinghamshire Constabulary, [2003]

Kuwait Airways Corp v Iraqi Airways Co & Anor [2002]

Webb v The Chief Constable of Merseyside [1999] 

Costello v Derbyshire Constabulary [2001]

 

Harassment

Definition: 

An unreasonable course of conduct causing alarm and distress without lawful authority.

Examples:

Police make excessive phone calls or visits to person’s home to coerce them into attending a voluntary interview under caution.

Details:

There is no statutory definition of ‘harassment,’ although it includes causing a person alarm or distress. The claimant must also show that there was a course of conduct. A ‘course of conduct’ must involve harassment on at least two occasions. The fewer the incidents and the wider apart they are the less likely they are to constitute harassment.

S.3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provides a civil remedy for harassment which includes damages and / or an injunction. The Chief Constable can also be held vicariously liable for the harassment caused by one of his employees. A corporate body is incapable of being harassed within the meaning of the Act.

The police tend to rely on defences under s.1(3) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which allows for a course of conduct pursued for the purpose of preventing and detecting crime or that which was reasonable in the circumstances. This would make it lawful for a police officer to harass a claimant for the purposes of preventing crime, even if his actions are unnecessary or disproportionate. However, s.1(3) must interpreted objectively and be read in conjunction with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which contains a necessity or proportionality requirement.

No common law tort in harassment exists that goes beyond the scope of statutory harassment.

Time Limit:

6 years

Damages: 

Unlike negligence and misfeasance, a claim in harassment may be brought even if the claimant has suffered no psychiatric loss or other harm. Damages are sought in line with ‘Vento Bands’ that were established in Vento v The Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police [2002]

Defence:

S.1(3) of the Protection From Harassment Act 1997

Case Law:

KD v Chief Constable of Hampshire [2005] 

Thomas v News Group Newspapers Ltd & Anor [2001]

Majrowski v Guy’s & St Thomas’s NHS Trust [2005] 

Allen v London Borough of Southwark [2008] 

Ferguson v British Gas Trading Ltd [2009] 

 

Misfeasance

Definition:

Abuse of power by a person holding public office that is affected by malice or bad faith that causes the claimant some loss. 

Examples:

A police officer makes a malicious referral after being complained about; an officer takes a bribe as a means to avert a prosecution; fabrication of evidence to escape misconduct proceedings.

Details:

Four elements must be satisfied to succeed with a claim in misfeasance:

  1. The conduct must be that of a public officer, exercising powers in that capacity (such as any police or CPS employee)
  2. The officer must either intend to injure the claimant by his acts or knowingly/recklessly act beyond his or her powers;
  3. and thereby cause damage to the claimant
  4. In circumstances where he knew the act would probably cause damage of this kind

Accident, mistake or carelessness are not sufficient (see negligence). The claimant must prove bad faith on the part of the official. Misfeasance can also be criminally prosecuted under the common law offence of Misconduct in Public Office. The chief constable of the respective force can be held vicariously liable for claims in Misfeasance.

Time Limit:

6 years from the date of the misconduct relied upon.

Damages:

Claimant must show they suffered a recognisable head of damage such as financial loss, loss of liberty, personal and physical injury. The only exception is where the claimant’s constitutional rights have been interfered with, such as a right to vote, right of access to justice (Watkins v Secretary Of State For Home Department & Ors [2004])

Defence:

Mistake, carelessness or accident.

Case Law:

Three Rivers District Council v. Governor and Company of The Bank of England [2001]

Watkins v Secretary Of State For Home Department & Ors [2004]

Akenzua & Anor v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor [2002]

Darker and Others and Chief Constable of The West Midlands Police [2000] 

 

Malicious Prosecution

Definition:

When proceedings are brought against a defendant maliciously and without reasonable and probable cause, and those proceedings are subsequently terminated in favour of that defendant.

Examples:

A police officer charges a person with an offence because that person was rude or made a formal complaint.

Details:

To succeed in a claim of malicious prosecution against the police, there are 5 elements that must be shown:

  1. Damage was suffered (such as loss of work, damage to reputation, anxiety, psychiatric injury).
  2. That the police (or private prosecutor) prosecuted (just being charged with an offence would suffice).
  3. A criminal case was concluded in the accused’s favour (acquittal, discontinuance, quashed on appeal, conviction for lesser offence, stay of proceedings)
  4. Reasonable and probable cause* were absent in the bringing of the prosecution (either the prosecutor did not believe in the guilt of the prosecuted or a reasonable person would not believe the accused was guilty of the offence)
  5. The police acted maliciously (that their motive was something other than the desire to bring the accused to justice).

In some cases it may be possible to establish that a member of the public who made a false complaint is the prosecutor instead of the police (Martin V Watson [1995]). Improper motives can also be considered malicious, such as officers who prosecute because the person was ‘wrongly’ acquitted in the past. Where malice stops short of prosecution there may be an action in misfeasance instead.

Parties are entitled to trial by jury in malicious prosecution cases.

*There is little distinction between the terms ‘reasonable’ and ‘probable’ cause and this could be considered an archaic legal doublet

Time Limit:

6 years from the date when the criminal proceedings terminated in the claimant’s favour.

Damages:

Defence: 

The charge or prosecution was in the interests of justice. Absence of malice.

Case Law:

Savile v Roberts [1698]

Thompson v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [1997]

Moulton v Chief Constable of the West Midlands [2010] 

Isaac v West Midlands Police [2001]

Paul v Humberside Police [2004]

 

Breach of Confidence

Definition:

The unauthorised disclosure of confidential information.

Examples:

The illicit bugging of someone’s home or the use of covert surveillance techniques

Details:

A duty of confidence arises whenever the party subject to that obligation knows, or ought to know, that the other person can reasonably expect his or her privacy to be protected. Where the protection of privacy would be upheld under article 8 the circumstances will also found an action for breach of confidence. Unlike data protection claims breach of confidence has a public domain exemption. The duty of confidence does not apply to trivial information.

Time Limit:

6 years.

Damages:

For cases of misuse of private information,  general damages is not limited to compensation for distress, but also to compensate for the misuse of the private information (Gulati v MGN Newspapers [2015])

Defence:

The public interest in preserving confidence outweighs the public interest to disclose.

Case Law:

Attorney General v Guardian Newspapers Ltd (No 2) [1990]

Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004]

Cornelius v De Taranto [2001]

Douglas v Hello! Ltd (No8) [2004]

Gulati & Ors v MGN Limited [2015] 

 

Data Protection

Definition:

The unlawful processing of an individual’s personal information.

Examples:

The police repeatedly pull a vehicle over due erroneous or outdated Automatic Number Plate Recognition data; unlawful access of the PNC

Details:

In May 2018 the Data Protection Act was replaced with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); a European directive that remains in force as long as England remains part of the European Union. It affords even greater data protection rights to individuals than its predecessor the Data Protection Act.

The most significant data rights provided by the GDPR are: rights of access to the data held (Article 15), the right to have information amended, the right to have information deleted (the right to be forgotten Article 17) and the right to damages for data protection breaches (Article 82).

There are six available lawful bases for processing data under Article 6 of the Act.

The right to be forgotten applies to “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, excessive in relation to the purposes of the processing”

Time Limit:

6 years

Damages: 

See Halliday v Creation Consumer Finance Ltd (CCF) [2013]

Defence:

Article 23 of the GDPR enables Member States to introduce exemptions from the GDPR’s transparency obligations and individual rights, but only where the restriction respects the essence of the individual’s fundamental rights and freedoms and is a necessary and proportionate measure in a democratic society to safeguard, inter alia, “the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences”.

Case Law:

NT1 v Google LLC [2018] Right to be forgotten

Halliday v Creation Consumer Finance Ltd (CCF) [2013] Data protection damages

Google Inc v Vidal-Hall & Ors [2015]

 

Malicious Process / Malicious Procurement of a Search Warrant

Definition:

Instituting a legal process short of prosecution without reasonable and probable cause and with malice (applications for arrest and search warrants).

Examples:

Groundless application for a search warrant.

Details:

This tort is most commonly used for applications for arrest warrants and search warrants. In so doing, the claimant must show:

  1. A successful application for a warrant was made
  2. There was a lack of reasonable cause for making the application (see malicious prosecution)
  3. It was made maliciously (see malicious prosecution)
  4. Damage resulted

If not all elements can be proven then an action in negligence may lie if the warrant was obtained on the basis of inacurate information (Hough v Staffordshire Constabulary [2001]).

Time Limit:

6 years

Damages: 

All forms of recognised damage: damage to goods, physical injury, psychiatric injury and financial loss.

Defence:

Constables Protection Act 1750

Case Law:

Keegan & Ors v Chief Constable of Merseyside [2003]

Hough v Staffordshire Constabulary [2001]

Gibbs and Others v. John Mitchell Rea [1998]

 

Intimidation

Definition:

Using an unlawful threat successfully to compel another to act (or refrain from acting) in a particular manner thereby occasioning harm.

Examples:

Use of threats to induce a confession, such as suggesting the interviewee’s children would be taken into care if he or she fails to co-operate.

Details:

The unlawful threat can be made either to the claimant directly or to a third party but must be intended to cause harm. The threat must be coercive and cause the recipient to act in a way he would not have done. If the recipient refuses to be swayed by the threat, then there is no claim in intimidation.  This tort is rarely used in police cases and has been mostly supplanted by the Protection from Harassment Act 1997; intimidation amounts to harassment as long as their is a course of conduct demanded by that Act.

Time Limit:

6 years

Damages: 

See Harassment.

Defence:

If the claimant refused to be swayed by the threat, there is no claim in intimidation.

Case Law:

News Group Newspapers Ltd v SOGAT 82 [1987]

Rookes v Barnard [1964]

Hodges v Webb [1920]

 

Negligence

Definition:

Carelessness amounting to the culpable breach of a duty of care.

Examples:

Failure of the police to protect a person in custody from harm; harm caused to other road users and pedestrians by police driving; police forcing entry to the wrong property.

Details:

Public authorities are generally under a duty of care to avoid causing actionable harm in situations where a duty of care would arise under ordinary principles of the law of negligence, unless the law provides otherwise. Courts will usually apply the test identified in Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman [1990] to determine whether a duty of care exists. A duty of care does not exist in all policing functions, but rather where one member of the public might owe another member of the public a duty of care, such as safe driving. Although each case is judged upon its facts, a failure to act will not normally found the basis of a duty of care in negligence; such as a failure to record crime, investigate, prosecute (in the case of the CPS) nor protect the public, except in the most serious cases such as serial rape and murder (I.E: John Worboys, the London cab driver who committed a series of sexual offences on women; see Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v DSD [2018])

Time Limit:

6 years. Personal injury claims that fall within s.11 of the Limitation Act 1980 are set at 3 years

Damages:

Damage must be suffered or claim will fail. Damage could be damage to goods, physical injury, psychiatric injury and financial loss.

Defence:

No duty of care was owed to the claimant

 

Case Law:

Donoghue v Stevenson [1932]

Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman [1990]

Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v DSD [2018]

Elguzouli-Daf v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis & CPS [1994] – The CPS do not owe a duty of care

Brooks v. Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis & Ors [2005]

Chief Constable of Northumbria v Costello [1998]

L (A Minor) & Anor v Reading Borough Council & Anor [2001]

B v Reading Borough Council & Ors [2007]

Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police 2018

Desmond v Nottinghamshire Police [2011]

 

Malicious Falsehood
Definition:

A false statement made maliciously that causes economic damage to another.

Examples:

Police distribute untrue information about an individual that causes them to lose their business licence.

Details:

The essence of malicious falsehood is that the defendant’s lies cause economic damage to the claimant. It has developed as a tort of privacy particularly among celebrities suing newspapers for stories that might prejudice future employment, impede their opportunity to sell their own stories or damage their economic reputation. It covers both written and spoken falsehoods.

In the case of police claims it would apply to information that is shared with other agencies, where police officers know it to be untrue or reckless, and it causes the claimant economic loss.

Malicious falsehood is similar to defamation, except that falsehood is not tried by jury, where defamation is; malice must be proven in malicious falsehood but not in defamation; defamation concerns itself with casting aspersions on a person’s character whereas other classes of untruth such as false statements about a person’s business is actionable in malicious falsehood; a false statement may be actionable in malicious prosecution where it is damaging but not defamatory; in defamation, the burden of proof is upon the defendant to establish the truth of a defamatory statement, whereas in malicious falsehood it rests with the claimant to show that the defendant’s statement was untrue.

Malicious falsehood claims are rare in relation to actions against the police, and due to the short time limit and proof of malice, a claim in data protection or breach of confidence may be preferred.

Time Limit:

1 year

Damages:

The claimant must prove that the false statement caused him financial loss, or that the defendant’s intention was to cause financial loss.

Defence:

Absolute privilege.

Case Law:

Kaye v Robertson & Anor [1990]

Joyce v Sengupta [1992]

 

 

Fatal Accidents

Definition:

Action that can be brought by the estate of person whose death has been caused by a tortious act.

Examples:

Suspicious death in police custody; failure of the police to prevent a foreseeable suicide.

Details:

The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 allows claimants to claim for loss they have suffered against anyone who causes death by their wrongful act. The act, neglect or default must constitute a civil wrong. If a suicide was induced by an unlawful act of the police or if the police failed to prevent a forseeable suicide a claim can succeed, even though the person took their own life.

Time Limit:

3 years from date of death or date of knowledge of the death

Damages: 

The Fatal Accidents Act will only award £18,000 damages for bereavement and the loss of reasonable expectation of financial benefit. Under the Law Reform Act the estate can sue for reasonable funeral expenses.

Defence:

The wrongful act, neglect or failure to act did not cause the death.

Case Law:

Kirkham v Anderton [1989]

Commissioners of Police for the Metropolis v. Reeves [1999]

 

Human Rights

Definition:

Breach of protected rights and freedoms afforded to every individual by the state or a private body acting on behalf of the state.

Examples:

Most of the examples listed on all other torts described here would also be a breach of Convention rights.

Details:

The Human Rights Act 1998 was intended to ‘bring rights home’ so that any remedy available under the ECHR at Strasbourg would be available in domestic courts and tribunals. Human Rights claims can be brought separately or as as part of existing legal proceedings including county court claims, tribunals and criminal court proceedings, although criminal courts cannot award damages.

Human rights claims are most often brought by way of judicial review, which has a 3 month time limit. However, where damages alone are sought then judicial review is not applicable. Standalone claims of Human Rights violations can be brought in the county court.

Article 5 (Right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (Right to respect for family and private life) are the most commonly engaged Convention rights involving actions against the police.

Where proceedings are brought in the county court and a question of a declaration of incompatibility is brought, the court is required to consider transferring proceedings to the High Court. But it is not necessary for the county court to transfer proceedings simply because a breach of a Convention right is alleged.

Time Limit:

1 year from the on which the act complained of took place or, if the act was continual, from the date the breach ended.

Damages: 

There is no automatic entitlement to damages under the Human Rights Act. Damages for breaches of Convention rights are awarded rarely, and successful claimants often receive no damages at all. Section 8(3) of the HRA provides that damages are to be awarded only when they are necessary to afford ‘just satisfaction’ to the victim. However the level of awards under section 8 should not affect the proper level of damages a claimant is entitled to for a breach of any other tort, such as false imprisonment; the HRA provides for this under S.11(b) “A person’s reliance on a Convention right does not restrict his right to make any claim or bring any proceedings which he could make or bring apart from sections 7 to 9.”

Defence:

See defences available on other causes of action listed here.

Case Law:

Anufrijeva v London Borough of Southwark [2003] 

R (on application of SL) v Metropolitan Police [2008]

Bernard, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Enfield [2002]

OOO & Ors v The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2011]

Gillan and Quinton v The UK [2010]

Rob Warner