SUING THE POLICE
A growing number of people are now suing the police for damages
in court instead of making a complaint against the police.
Two reasons for this are:
- if you are successful you get financial compensation (cash)
- people are realising that taking out a complaint against the
police rarely succeeds
Have you been a victim of police misconduct and want to know
if you can take them to court? This leaflet gives you an idea
about whether you can take the matter further and what you should
do next. Obviously your chances of succeeding in suing the police
are better if you have witnesses suporting your claims and any
other evidence to back up your case. It may be difficult to win
if it is just your word against theirs.
WHAT CAN I SUE FOR?
Most people want to sue the police because they have been wrongly
arrested, assaulted by the police or prosecuted for something
they didn't do. Here are some things you should know about these
types of action:
Unlawful arrest and detention is called false imprisonment. The
police must justify any arrest and detention, so if you think
the police have acted outside their powers it is worthwhile getting
further advice. False imprisonment can happen on the street, in
your home, in a police vehicle and of course at the police station
- in fact any place where the police control your freedom.
This is much wider than many people think. You are assaulted as
soon as someone touches you without a lawful reason to do so,
and when they put you in fear of violence. Of course, it includes
being punched and kicked and being subjected to illegal body searches.
If you are assaulted by the police it is important to see a doctor
(at casualty or your GP) straight away and for the injuries to
be noted. You should also take photos of any injuries, if possible.
Prosecuted for something I didn't do
This is called malicious prosecution. You have to prove that the
police had no reasonable cause to prosecute you and that they
had a "wrongful motive" in doing so. You also usually have to
win your case, which means either (a) any charges were dropped
before the case went to court, or (b) you accepted a bind-over
at court before the case starts, or (c) you were acquitted (found
innocent) in court.
You can also sue the police for negligence, trespass to land and
goods, and a few other civil wrongs. It may also be possible to
make a police complaint about some misconduct about which you
cannot sue. If you feel any of these apply to you, you should
talk to a solicitor or advice or law centre.
WHAT KIND OF COURT CASE WILL IT BE
Suing the police takes place in the normal civil courts such as
the County Courts or High Courts. It's similar to other kinds
of civil cases except that there can be a jury (as well as a judge)
in cases for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. You
are suing the police for compensation for the wrongs done to you.
It may, though, take two or three years for the matter to get
to court. It is unlikely that any police officer will be punished
as a result.For this to happen you would also have to take a complaint
out against the police officer/s through the Police Complaints
Authority. Again speak to a solicitor, advice or law centre, before
you do this.
HOW MUCH COULD I WIN?
It is very difficult to say because IF the case goes as far as
the court, it is up to the jury to decide. However, in a large
number of cases the police pay up before the case goes to court,
as they realise that they probably won't win. Either way, some
awards can be for thousands of pounds.
WHAT ARE THE COSTS OF SUING THE POLICE?
Legal Aid is normally available for these cases if you are not
working, or on a very low income, or have high financial commitments.
Legal Aid usually gives you an insurance against paying the legal
costs of the police if you lose. Law Centres who do this kind
of work may do so for free if you cannot get legal aid. If you
lose your case and are not legally aided you will probably have
to pay your legal costs. These may be quite high so check this
out before you start your case.
HOW LONG HAVE I GOT TO START A CASE?
Three years for assault resulting in personal injury, six years
for everything else. But of course you should start as soon as
WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT?
You should write down the facts of the incident as soon as possible,
including as much detail as you can about the police officers
involved. You should see a doctor if you have any injuries. Speak
to a firm of solicitors, but TRY to use ones who specialise in
this type of work. Local community groups, Law Centres or Citizens
Advice Bureaux should be able to help you with names of good solicitors,
or at least tell you someone who can.
USEFUL ADDRESSES TO CONTACT
Legal Defence & Monitoring Group, C/O BM Haven, London,
Liberty, 21 Tabard Street, London, SE1
Law Centres Federation, Duchess House, 18/19 Warren Street,
London, W1P 5DB written by steve cragg of hackney law centre
and haringey solidarity group