Calveley v Chief Constable of the Merseyside Police: HL 1989

Police officers brought an action in negligence against a Chief Constable on the ground that disciplinary proceedings against them had been negligently conducted. They claimed that the investigating officers had negligently failed to conduct the investigations properly or expeditiously and they sued for loss of overtime payments which they would otherwise have received during their periods of suspension.
Held: The claim failed. It would be contrary to public policy to prejudice the fearless and efficient discharge by police officers of their vitally important public duty of investigating crime by requiring them to act under the shadow of a potential action for damages for negligence by the suspect.
Lord Bridge dealing with the question of whether the police owe a duty of care to a suspect in carrying out a criminal investigation observed that: ‘One must therefore ask the question whether foreseeable injury to the suspect may be caused on the hypothesis either that he has never been charged or, if charged, that he has been acquitted at trial or on appeal, or that his conviction has been quashed on an application for judicial review. It is, I accept, foreseeable that in these situations the suspect may be put to expense, or may conceivably suffer some other economic loss, which might have been avoided had a more careful investigation established his innocence at some earlier stage. However, any suggestion that there should be liability in negligence in such circumstances runs up against the formidable obstacles in the way of liability in negligence for purely economic loss. Where no action for malicious prosecution would lie, it would be strange indeed if an acquitted defendant could recover damages for negligent investigation. Finally, all other considerations apart, it would plainly be contrary to public policy, in my opinion, to prejudice the fearless and efficient discharge by police officers of their vitally important public duty of investigating crime by requiring them to act under the shadow of a potential action for damages for negligence by the suspect. If no duty of care is owed by a police officer investigating a suspected crime to a civilian suspect, it is difficult to see any conceivable reason why a police officer who is subject to investigation under the Regulations of 1977 should be in any better position.’ and ‘ . . it is not reasonably foreseeable that the negligent conduct of a criminal investigation would cause injury to the health of the suspect, whether in the form of depressive illness or otherwise.’
The availability of the tort of misfeasance in public office is one reason justifying the non-actionability of a claim in negligence where there is an act of maladministration: ‘where no action for malicious prosecution would lie, it would be strange indeed if an acquitted defendant could recover damages for negligent investigation.”

The availability of the tort of misfeasance in public office was one reason justifying the non-actionability of a claim in negligence for an act of maladministration: ‘I do not regard this as an occasion where it is necessary to explore, still less to define, the precise limits of the tort of misfeasance in public office. It suffices for present purposes to say that it must at least involve an act done in the exercise or purported exercise by the public officer of some power or authority with which he is clothed by virtue of the office he holds and which is done in bad faith or (possibly) without reasonable cause. The decision to suspend the plaintiff Park under regulation 24 was taken by the deputy Chief Constable. If this had been done maliciously in the sense indicated, this would certainly be capable of constituting the tort of misfeasance in public office. But it was conceded that no malice is alleged against the deputy Chief Constable and that malice on the part of Grant cannot be imputed to him. The pleaded case must therefore stand or fall according as to whether it identifies any act done by Grant in the exercise or purported exercise of a power or authority vested in him as investigating officer which was infected by the malice pleaded against him. I can find no such act identified by the pleading.
No formal application to amend the pleading was made in the course of the argument, but at a late stage a document was placed before your Lordships indicating a pleading of additional particulars under paragraphs 22 and 24 which the plaintiff might seek leave to add by way of amendment if those two paragraphs in the statement of claim were allowed to stand. The particulars which it is suggested might be added under paragraph 24 would read:
‘From an early stage (the date whereof the plaintiff cannot further particularise until after discovery and/or interrogatories herein) Grant knew or believed that there were no proper grounds for suspending the plaintiff yet procured the imposition of and/or the continuation of the suspension by continuing the investigation and giving misleading and/or incomplete reports concerning the same.’
It is evident that if a police officer investigating suspected criminal or disciplinary offences makes a false report to his superior officer which is defamatory of the suspect and that report is made maliciously so as to lose its status of qualified privilege, the suspect has a cause of action in tort against the author of the report. But the tort is defamation not misfeasance in public office, since the mere making of a report is not a relevant exercise of power or authority by the investigating officer. I express no opinion as to whether in those circumstances the Chief Constable would be vicariously liable under section 48(1) of the Act of 1964. However that may be, the suggested additional particulars under paragraph 24 of the statement of claim would do nothing to validate the pleading of misfeasance in public office and obviously fall far short of disclosing a reasonable cause of action in defamation.’ ‘
Lord Bridge of Harwich
[1989] AC 1228, [1989] 1 All ER 1025, [1989] 2 WLR 624
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedCornelius v Hackney London Borough Council CA 25-Jul-2002
The applicant sought damages from the council for misfeasance in public office. Protracted litigation had followed his dismissal after he had attempted to bring allegations of misconduct within the authority to the attention of a council committee. . .
CitedMullaney v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police CA 15-May-2001
The claimant police officer was severely injured making an arrest. He claimed damages from the respondent for contributory negligence of other officers in failing to come to his assistance.
Held: If a police officer owes a duty of care to . .
CitedThree Rivers District Council and Others v Governor and Company of The Bank of England HL 18-May-2000
The applicants alleged misfeasance against the Bank of England in respect of the regulation of a bank.
Held: The Bank could not be sued in negligence, but the tort of misfeasance required clear evidence of misdeeds. The action was now properly . .
CitedBarnard v Restormel Borough Council CA 6-Feb-1998
The council appealed a refusal to strike out the proceedings. The claimant alleged misfeasance in a planning decision giving a competitor consent to development. He said the mayor had deceived the planning committee as to the need to consider the . .
CitedWatkins v Secretary of State for The Home Departmentand others CA 20-Jul-2004
The claimant complained that prison officers had abused the system of reading his solicitor’s correspondence whilst he was in prison. The defendant argued that there was no proof of damage.
Held: Proof of damage was not necessary in the tort . .
CitedBrooks v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and others HL 21-Apr-2005
The claimant was with Stephen Lawrence when they were both attacked and Mr Lawrence killed. He claimed damages for the negligent way the police had dealt with his case, and particularly said that they had failed to assess him as a victim of crime, . .
CitedElliott v Chief Constable of Wiltshire and Others ChD 20-Nov-1996
Sir Richard Scott discussed the tort of misfeasance in public office as described in Calveley: ‘I would agree that the tort of misfeasance in public office does require that the misconduct complained of should be sufficiently connected with the . .
CitedFrench and others v Chief Constable of Sussex Police CA 28-Mar-2006
The claimants sought damages for psychiatric injury. They were police officers who had been subject to unsuccessful proceedings following a shooting of a member of the public by their force.
Held: The claim failed: ‘these claimants have no . .
CitedConnolly-Martin v Davis CA 27-May-1999
A claim was brought by a party against counsel for his opponent who had gone beyond his authority in giving an undertaking for his client.
Held: The claim had no prospect of success, and had been struck out correctly. Counsel offering to the . .
CitedAn Informer v A Chief Constable CA 29-Feb-2012
The claimant appealed against dismissal of his claim for damages against the police. He had provided them with information, but he said that they had acted negligently and in breach of contract causing him financial loss. The officer handling his . .
CitedMichael and Others v The Chief Constable of South Wales Police and Another SC 28-Jan-2015
The claimants asserted negligence in the defendant in failing to provide an adequate response to an emergency call, leading, they said to the death of their daughter at the hands of her violent partner. They claimed also under the 1998 Act. The . .
CitedSXH v The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) SC 11-Apr-2017
The Court was asked: ‘Does a decision by a public prosecutor to bring criminal proceedings against a person fall potentially within the scope of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in circumstances where a) the prosecutor has . .
CitedRobinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police SC 8-Feb-2018
Limits to Police Exemption from Liability
The claimant, an elderly lady was bowled over and injured when police were chasing a suspect through the streets. As they arrested him they fell over on top of her. She appealed against refusal of her claim in negligence.
Held: Her appeal . .
CitedJames-Bowen and Others v Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis SC 25-Jul-2018
The Court was asked whether the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (‘the Commissioner’) owes a duty to her officers, in the conduct of proceedings against her based on their alleged misconduct, to take reasonable care to protect them from . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 09 August 2021; Ref: scu.182998