Jennifer Wright successfully defends false imprisonment and assault claim

5 July 2024

Jennifer was instructed by DWF for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in this claim arising from the Claimant’s arrest on suspicion of assaulting her neighbour. The matter was heard over 3 days before a Circuit Judge at Central London County Court. The Claimant challenged the lawfulness of her arrest and subsequent detention and contended that the force used in handcuffing her was without lawful justification.

The Court heard evidence from the Claimant and family members and from five police officers, including those who conducted the arrest, provided support and advice, and the custody sergeant who authorised detention. The evidence spoke to the challenging nature of response policing: the circumstances were of neighbours living in close proximity and engaged in a volatile ongoing dispute with allegations and counter-allegations. The Court explored what can reasonably be expected of officers in their initial investigations and considered when the need to use less intrusive interventions (such as a voluntary interview at a later date) may be overridden by the risk of escalation and further harm.

The Court dismissed the claim and determined every issue in the Commissioner’s favour. The officers had received a credible allegation of assault and had honestly and reasonably suspected the Claimant of this. The arresting officer had considered a range of options and had honestly and reasonably concluded that her arrest was necessary. It was objectively reasonable to reject a voluntary interview at a later date because it left open an unacceptable risk of further escalation and harm: the Court accepted the thrust of the officer’s evidence as summarised in submissions that this was a paradigmatic example of a situation where an arrest is necessary. Upon speaking to the Claimant, the situation had rapidly deteriorated, and a family member had physically intervened. In those circumstances, the application of handcuffs was necessary, reasonable, and proportionate. The proportionality of the decision to use force was reflected in the fact that the officers had subjected it to continuous review and, as soon as the situation calmed down, the handcuffs were removed. The Claimant’s subsequent detention was lawful, justified, and no longer than was reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

The Commissioner was awarded his costs in full, with full enforceability (the claim not being subject to QOCS protection)

The Court offered useful guidance to those engaged in police actions on the importance of the pleadings. The particulars of claim did not allege a lack of honest or reasonable suspicion, or that the force was excessive or pre-emptive, and the issues the Claimant sought to raise at trial were far wider than had been pleaded. Although the burden of proof is on the defendant police force to prove the lawfulness of any admitted detention, the Court noted that there are limits to this: the Judge did not accept that the Commissioner was obliged to prove legality where illegality was not even alleged. Equally, claimants should be cautious of making serious allegations of dishonesty (such as asserting that there was no honest suspicion) without evidential support, particularly if this is not part of their pleaded case.

Jennifer accepts instructions in all of Chambers’ core practice areas and has particular interest in police law, inquests and inquiries, data and information law, and public and administrative law. She is ranked as a ‘Rising Star’ in Police Law by Legal 500 and as ‘Up and Coming’ in Inquests and Inquiries (where she frequently acts on behalf of police forces).


Authors

Jennifer Wright

Call 2018

Related areas

Police Law

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