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Taking Legal Action: suing the police

You may bring a civil action against the police and seek damages to compensate you for your injuries and loss. The categories under which the police can be sued include the following:

  • Assault and battery or the use of excessive force in arrest or detention.
  • False imprisonment or restricting your liberty unlawfully - for example, detaining you without justification or for too long without charge.
  • Trespass or searching property without proper authority.
  • Malicious prosecution or bringing a prosecution without any good reasons which then fails.
  • Negligence or failure to meet the standard of care that the police should show for the safety of people forseeably affected by their actions.
W hen the old Police Complaints Authority was in place, many civil cases succeeded where formal complaints failed. It remains to be seen whether the establishment of the IPCC will alter this state of affairs. If you are considering bringing a civil action you should ask a lawyer as soon as possible to advise you on your chances of success and the possible amount of damages you might receive.

In February 1997 the Court of Appeal laid down guidelines on the level of damages in civil actions against the police in the case of The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis v. Thompson and Hsu. The court proposed a figure of £500 for the first hour of false imprisonment and then a downward sliding scale, with £3,000 to be awarded for 24 hours’ detention. The court also proposed damages for malicious prosecution of between £2,000 and £10,000, and that exemplary damages awarded against the police should be between £5,000 and £50,000. Community Legal Service funding is available for actions against the police - subject to the merits of your case and your income and capital.

It is usual to sue the Chief Constable, who is generally responsible for the actions of police officers, of the relevant police force. This means that it is not necessary to know the identities of the police officers involved, unlike with police complaints.

If you are considering a civil action as well as making a formal complaint you should get legal advice from a solicitor or other adviser. You may be advised not to make a very detailed statement in support of your complaint because this might put you at some disadvantage in the civil action as the police will know at a very early stage the case you are going to make against them. If you have already made a complaint, refer the investigating officer to your solicitor. Be prepared for a considerable wait as civil cases can take several years to be concluded.
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