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Brooks v. Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis


House of Lords

The victim of a crime and eye-witness to murder was not allowed to proceed with a claim for damages in negligence against the police for the manner in which he was treated by the police. The principles of duty of care he put forward were conclusively ruled out by the principles in Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (1988) 138 NLJ 126 .
The appellant commissioner of police (D1) and individual serving police officers appealed against the decision ((2002) EWCA Civ 407) that the respondent (B) could claim damages in negligence and for breaches of the Race Relations Act 1976 s.20 due to the manner in which B was treated by the police when he was a victim of crime and an eye-witness to murder. B had been the victim of a racist gang attack in which his friend was murdered. B consequently developed post-traumatic stress disorder and sought damages from the commissioner on the grounds of negligence, false imprisonment and misfeasance in public office and from the individual officers for breaches of the Race Relations Act 1976 s.20 . The appellants submitted that the primary function of the police was to preserve the Queen's peace; and that, in the course of performing their function of investigating crime, the police owed no legal duties to take care that either a victim or a witness as such did not suffer psychiatric harm as a result of police actions or omissions, relying on Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (1988) 138 NLJ 126. B did not challenge the decision in Hill but contended that it did not stand in the way of his submission that the police owed him a common law duty sounding in damages to: (i) take reasonable steps to assess whether B was a victim of crime and then to accord him reasonably appropriate protection, support, assistance and treatment if he was so assessed; (ii) take reasonable steps to afford B the protection, assistance and support commonly afforded to a key eye-witness to a serious crime of violence; and (iii) afford reasonable weight to the account that B gave and to act upon it accordingly.

HELD: (1) There was no basis for sensibly imposing on the police any of the three legal duties asserted by B as those duties would cut across the freedom of action the police ought to have when investigating serious crime. The principle in Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (1988) 138 NLJ 126 had to be judged in the light of legal policy and the bill of rights, Hill applied. With hindsight not every principle in Hill could now be supported and a more sceptical approach to the carrying out of all public functions was necessary. However, the core principle of Hill had remained unchallenged in domestic jurisprudence and European jurisdiction for many years and it had to stand. (2) The three alleged duties of care were undoubtedly inextricably bound up with the police function of investigating crime, which was covered by the principle in Hill. Making full allowance for the fact that the instant proceedings were a strike out application, and that the law regarding the liability of the police in tort was not set in stone, the court was satisfied that the three duties of care put forward were conclusively ruled out by the principle in Hill, as restated, and had to be struck out.

Appeal allowed.

[2005] UKHL 24

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