Police Liability for a Negligent Failure to Prevent Crime: Enhancing Accountability by Clearing the Public Policy Fog

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In a line of decisions from Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, through Brooks v Metropolitan Police Commissioner to Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex, the House of Lords has held firmly to the public policy principle affording the police an extensive protection against liability for a negligent failure to prevent crime. Despite prompting by the European Court of Human Rights in Osman, and the fact that courts in some other major common law jurisdictions have not followed their lead, their Lordships (with exception of Lord Bingham) have displayed no appetite for a re-think. This article looks behind the Hill public policy principle and finds that it lacks coherence in its application to policing situations, is based on flawed reasoning and purports to protect a public interest that is already sufficiently protected by other means. It argues that the continued application of the Hill principle is increasingly anomalous in the policing context, and suggests that the ends of effective police accountability and justice for the victim of police negligence would be better served by a combination of the established proximity and standard of care concepts and the emerging proportionality principle.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5235/096157611794895228

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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  • Until 2007 the King's Law Journal was known as the King's College Law Journal. It was established in 1990 as a legal periodical publishing scholarly and authoritative Articles, Notes and Reports on legal issues of current importance to both academic research and legal practice. It has a national and international readership, and publishes refereed contributions from authors across the United Kingdom, from continental Europe and further afield (particularly Commonwealth countries and USA). The journal includes a Reviews section containing critical notices of recently published books.
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