The police must comply with the law and follow certain procedures when they arrest and question a suspect, and exercise other police powers. They must, for instance, comply with the Bail Act 1976, and the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act 1984 and related codes of practice.
Where the police abuse or misuse their powers, civil actions can be taken against the police for compensation, and other remedies. Circumstances that typically lead to compensation claims against the police include cases of personal injury as a result of excessive force or the misuse of a Taser gun or batons – or outright assault by an officer.
Compensation can also be claimed where an individual is wrongly arrested, unlawfully detained, or has been the subject of malicious prosecution or other forms misconduct or mistreatment. Where an individual’s human rights have been breached, the police can be held to account. Police exploitation is also an issue of increasing concern and can lead to a civil claim.
As with any type of personal injury claim, expert legal advice should be taken as to your chances of success.
The police frequently have to use force to perform their public duties, such as preventing crime, defending themselves, protecting others from harm, and making lawful arrests. However, any force used must be reasonable in the circumstances. If unreasonable force is used, and someone is injured as a result, a compensation claim can be made.
The police have a general duty of care towards the public at large, but they owe no special duty of care towards a particular category of victims. This is an important principle based on the fact that the public interest requires that the police are protected from negligence claims – otherwise they wouldn’t be able to perform their policing functions properly. This means you cannot usually make a negligence claim against the police at common law.
However, other civil actions against the police are usually based on the law of tort, the aim of which is to put innocent victims back to the position they were before they suffered loss or harm.
Any force used by the police must be reasonable, and if it is not, the individual can make a claim for compensation. The use of any weapons, such as batons and tear gas, will be taken into account in deciding whether the force used was reasonable in the circumstances.
In addition, the physical force used could amount to an assault leading to criminal charges being brought against the officer concerned.
Without a lawful reason to arrest an individual, there may be a case for wrongful arrest. When the police make an arrest, the procedures set out in PACE (and related codes) must be followed – and if they are not, the person arrested can make a claim for breach of duty.
If you are lawfully arrested, but you are detained for longer than the law allows (for instance, an extension for up to 36 hours has not been obtained), this may constitute unlawful imprisonment. Even the misuse or abuse of stop and search power can amount to unlawful imprisonment, leading to compensation claims.
If your private property has been damaged by the police because they used excessive force, or they failed to comply with PACE; or if they have entered your home without lawful reason, you may have a claim. If you can show you have been discriminated against on the grounds of your race, religion or gender, for instance, you can make a civil claim.
If your claim is based on malicious prosecution, you would need to show that the police had no reasonable cause to bring charges against you, and that they had a ‘wrong motive’ in doing so. You would have to successfully defend any charges brought against you, or have the charges dropped or thrown out, if you have any chance of succeeding in a civil claim against the police.
To make a successful police abuse claim, you would need to show misconduct and/or a breach of certain laws such as the Human Rights Act. Take expert legal advice as early as possible if you wish to make a claim against the police.
Whatever the harm or loss you have suffered, it is important to take action as soon as possible because of strict time limits. Whilst you have 6 years to start a claim for wrongful arrest or false imprisonment, you only have three years to make a personal injury claim (unless the claim is for a child). To make a specific complaint against the police, this must be done within a year. In some cases, you will have to file a police complaint before starting a civil claim.
Even if you have a strong case, it can take up to 2 or 3 years for the case to come to court. You will need evidence to support your claim, otherwise you will have little chance of holding the police to account for their actions. The best evidence may be video or CCTV records, independent witness statements, photographs and medical records.
Whilst compensation is the usual outcome of a successful claim against the police, you might also be entitled to further remedies, such as a police apology, destruction of DNA records and removal of your personal details from the police national computer.
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If you win your case, your solicitor's success fee will be taken from the compensation you are awarded - up to a maximum of 25%. Your solicitor will discuss any fees before starting your case.