Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis v Reeves (Joint Administratix of The Estate of Martin Lynch, Deceased): HL 15 Jul 1999

The deceased was a prisoner known to be at risk of committing suicide. Whilst in police custody he hanged himself in his prison cell. The Commissioner accepted that he was in breach of his duty of care to the deceased, but not that that breach was caustive of the death by suicide.
Held: Police and other officers of the state who take people into custody have a duty towards those so held of reasonable care. Where there was a known risk of self-harm or suicide, they had a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent such acts. It was not open to them to plead novus actus interveniens or volenti non fit injuria in defence of an action by the estate of a deceased. A duty to protect against obvious risks or self-inflicted harm exists only in cases in which there is no genuine and informed choice, such as the despair of prisoners which may lead them to inflict injury on themselves. ‘whatever views one may have about suicide in general, a 100 per cent. apportionment of responsibility to Mr. Lynch gives no weight at all to the policy of the law in imposing a duty of care upon the police. It is another different way of saying that the police should not have owed Mr. Lynch a duty of care. The law of torts is not just a matter of simple morality but contains many strands of policy, not all of them consistent with each other, which reflect the complexity of life. An apportionment of responsibility ‘as the court thinks just and equitable’ will sometimes require a balancing of different goals. ‘
Lord Hoffmann: ‘This philosophy [the individualist philosophy of the common law] expresses itself in the fact that duties to safeguard from harm deliberately caused by others are unusual and a duty to protect a person of full understanding from causing harm to himself is very rare indeed.’
Lord Hope of Craighead: ‘It is unusual for a person to be under a duty to take reasonable care to prevent another person doing something to his loss, injury or damage deliberately. On the whole people are entitled to act as they please, even if this will inevitably lead to their own death or injury.’


Lord Hoffmann, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Hobhouse of Wood-borough


Times 16-Jul-1999, Gazette 11-Aug-1999, [1999] 3 WLR 363, [1999] UKHL 35, [2000] 1 AC 360, [1999] 3 All ER 897


House of Lords, Bailii


England and Wales


Appeal fromReeves (Joint Administratrix of the Estate of Martin Lynch, Deceased) v Commissioner of Police for Metropolis CA 10-Nov-1997
The fact that the deceased committed suicide whilst in custody does not necessarily absolve the police of blame if the deceased was a known suicide risk. . .
CitedImperial Chemical Industries Ltd v Shatwell HL 6-Jul-1964
The respondent was employed as a shot firer in a quarry, and was to test the electric wiring connecting explosive charges. Contrary to instructions that testing must be done from a shelter, the respondent and another shot firer carried out a test in . .
CitedEmpress Car Company (Abertillery) Ltd v National Rivers Authority HL 22-Jan-1998
A diesel tank was in a yard which drained into a river. It was surrounded by a bund to contain spillage, but that protection was over ridden by an extension pipe from the tank to a drum outside the bund. Someone opened a tap on that pipe so that . .
CitedKirkham v Anderton, The Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester police CA 20-Dec-1989
The claimant’s husband hanged himself in Risley Remand Centre after the police had failed to warn the prison authorities that he was (as the police knew) a suicide risk. He was suffering from clinical depression and had previously attempted suicide . .
CitedHutchinson v London and North Eastern Railway Co. CA 1942
Goddard LJ said: ‘It is only too common to find in cases where the plaintiff alleges that a defendant employer has been guilty of a breach of a statutory duty, that a plea of contributory negligence has been set up. In such a case I always directed . .
CitedStaveley Iron and Chemical Co Ltd v Jones HL 1956
The court must avoid treating every risky act by an employee due to familiarity with the work or some inattention resulting from noise or strain as contributory negligence: ‘ . . in Factory Act cases the purpose of imposing the absolute obligation . .
CitedHyde v Thameside Area Health Authority CA 1986
. .
CitedRegina v Collins; Pathfinder Mental Health Services NHS Trust and St Georges Health Care NHS Trust ex parte M S CA 3-Jul-1997
The hospital authorities applied ex parte and were granted a declaration which dispensed with the applicant’s consent to medical treatment.
Held: Her appeal was allowed. A declaration (especially one affecting an individual’s personal . .
CitedStansbiev Troman CA 1948
A decorator working alone in a house went out to buy wallpaper and left the front door unlocked. He was held liable for the loss caused by a thief who entered while he was away. For the purpose of attributing liability to the thief (e.g. in a . .
CitedForsikringsaktieselskapt Vesta v Butcher HL 1988
A contract of insurance and a facultative reinsurance, under which part of the original risk was reinsured, contained warranties in identical terms.
Held: The warranty in the reinsurance policy, which was governed by English law, should be . .
CitedYachuk v Oliver Blais Co Ltd PC 1949
(Canada) Petrol was sold to a child aged nine who was unaware of its dangerous properties, and suffered injury.
Held: A duty of care may be due toward someone unable to appreciate the risks to which he will be exposed by is own act. An . .
CitedHughes v Lord Advocate HL 21-Feb-1963
The defendants had left a manhole uncovered and protected only by a tent and paraffin lamp. A child climbed down the hole. When he came out he kicked over one of the lamps. It fell into the hole and caused an explosion. The child was burned. The . .
CitedBritish Columbia Electric Railway Co Ltd v Loach HL 1916
Lord Sumner disapproved of the use of Latin tags in the law. . .
CitedOverseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd (The Wagon Mound No 1) PC 18-Jan-1961
Foreseeability Standard to Establish Negligence
Complaint was made that oil had been discharged into Sydney Harbour causing damage. The court differentiated damage by fire from other types of physical damage to property for the purposes of liability in tort, saying ‘We have come back to the plain . .
CitedRegina v Deputy Governor of Parkhurst Prison, Ex parte Hague, Weldon v Home Office HL 24-Jul-1991
The prisoner challenged the decision to place him in segregation under Prison Rule 43. Under rule 43(1) the initial power to segregate was given to ‘the governor’. The case arose from the fact that the governor of one prison had purported to . .
CitedFreeman v Home Office (No 2) CA 1984
A prisoner brought an action in battery against a prison doctor for administering drugs to him by injection. He argued that he was incapable of consenting to the procedure because he was in the defendant’s custody. . He failed at trial.
Held: . .
CitedRegina v Deputy Governor of Parkhurst Prison, Ex parte Hague CA 5-Jun-1990
A decision to segregate a prisoner under rule 43 is to be made by the governor of the prison where he is held. Taylor LJ said: ‘Apart from the urgency of decisions under r 43, there may well be other public policy grounds for not giving reasons in . .
CitedRegina v Deputy Governor of Parkhurst Prison, Ex parte Hague, Weldon v Home Office QBD 1990
A prisoner challenged the decision that he should be segregated under rule 43.
Held: Ralph Gibson LJ said: ‘In this case Mr Sedley acknowledged that there could not be an unqualified obligation in all cases upon the governor to allow the right . .
CitedCleaver v Mutual Reserve Fund Life Association CA 1892
The deceased’s executors objected to his widow maintaining action on a trust created by an insurance policy in her favour under the Act. She had been convicted of his murder. The executors’ case was that ‘it is against public policy to allow a . .
CitedBeresford v Royal Insurance Co Ltd HL 1938
The forfeiture rule was to be applied in a case involving suicide. An insured may not recover under a policy of insurance in respect of loss intentionally caused by his own criminal or tortious act, however clearly the wording of the policy may . .
CitedWilliams v Birmingham Battery and Metal Co 1899
The burden of proof for establishing the defence of volenti non fit injuria lies on the defendant. . .
CitedScott v Shepherd 1773
Squib Thrower’s Liability through Negligence
An accusation of assault and trespass will lie where the defendant threw a squib which was then thrown about by others in self defence, but eventually exploded putting out the plaintiff’s eye. . .
CitedThe Empire Jamaica 1957
A collision was caused by a ‘blunder in seamanship of . . a somewhat serious and startling character’ by an uncertified second mate. The owners knew that the mate was not certificated and the collision would not have happened if he had not been . .
CitedCaparo Industries Plc v Dickman and others HL 8-Feb-1990
Limitation of Loss from Negligent Mis-statement
The plaintiffs sought damages from accountants for negligence. They had acquired shares in a target company and, relying upon the published and audited accounts which overstated the company’s earnings, they purchased further shares.
Held: The . .
CitedCutler v United Dairies CA 1933
A horse pulling one of the defendant’s vans was seen running loose without a driver. It left the roadway onto private land. The driver caught up and called for help. The plaintiff jumped into the field and was injured trying to restrain the horse. . .
CitedHaynes v Harwood CA 1935
The plaintiff, a policemen saw a horse running loose in the street among children. He ran out, chased it and caught it but was injured.
Held: The horseowner was liable. It was foreseeable that if a horse was let loose in a crowd, somebody, . .
CitedStapley v Gypsum Mines Ltd HL 25-Jun-1953
Plaintiff to take own responsibility for damage
The question was whether the fault of the deceased’s fellow workman, they both having disobeyed their foreman’s instructions, was to be regarded as having contributed to the accident.
Held: A plaintiff must ‘share in the responsibility for the . .
CitedNettleship v Weston CA 30-Jun-1971
The plaintiff gave a friend’s wife driving lessons. An experienced driver himself, he checked her insurance first. The learner crashed into a lamp-post, and he was injured. She was convicted of careless driving, and he sought damages. The judge held . .
CitedDann v Hamilton 1939
The maxim volenti non fit injuria, which originates from Roman law, is a notorious source of confusion. The court doubted whether the maxim ever could apply to license in advance a subsequent act of negligence, for if the consent precedes the act of . .
CitedCommissioner of Police for the Metropolis v Reeves (Joint Administratix of The Estate of Martin Lynch, Deceased) HL 15-Jul-1999
The deceased was a prisoner known to be at risk of committing suicide. Whilst in police custody he hanged himself in his prison cell. The Commissioner accepted that he was in breach of his duty of care to the deceased, but not that that breach was . .

Cited by:

CitedTomlinson v Congleton Borough Council and others HL 31-Jul-2003
The claimant dived into a lake, severely injuring himself. The council appealed liability, arguing that it owed him no duty of care under the Act since he was a trespasser. It had placed warning signs to deter swimmers.
Held: The council’s . .
CitedAmin, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 16-Oct-2003
Prisoner’s death – need for full public enquiry
The deceased had been a young Asian prisoner. He was placed in a cell overnight with a prisoner known to be racist, extremely violent and mentally unstable. He was killed. The family sought an inquiry into the death.
Held: There had been a . .
CitedLoftus-Brigham and Another v London Borough of Ealing CA 28-Oct-2003
The claimants sought to recover for damages caused to their house foundations by trees growing nearby which were the responsibility of the defendants. The defendants replied that the damages was caused in part by roots from virgina creeper and . .
CitedGorringe v Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council HL 1-Apr-2004
Statutory Duty Not Extended by Common Law
The claimant sought damages after a road accident. The driver came over the crest of a hill and hit a bus. The road was not marked with any warning as to the need to slow down.
Held: The claim failed. The duty could not be extended to include . .
CitedD, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Inquest Intervening) CA 28-Feb-2006
The respondent appealed from orders made as to the conduct of an investigation into an attempted suicide in prison. The judge had severely criticised the appellant’s treatment of the case.
Held: The appeal failed. The court recited the . .
CitedCorr v IBC Vehicles Ltd CA 31-Mar-2006
The deceased had suffered a head injury whilst working for the defendant. In addition to severe physical consequences he suffered post-traumatic stress, became more and more depressed, and then committed suicide six years later. The claimant . .
CitedVellino v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police CA 31-Jul-2001
The police were not under any duty to protect someone who had been arrested from injuring himself in an attempt to escape. The claimant had a history of seeking to avoid capture by jumping from his flat window. On this occasion he injured himself in . .
CitedDorning v Personal Representative of Paul Rigby (Deceased) CA 13-Dec-2007
The claimant motorcyclist appealed dismissal of his claim for damages. Another motorcycle rider had failed to negotiate a bend, and hit a car in coming in the opposite direction. The claimant said that he crashed when he lost control in the debris. . .
CitedCalvert v William Hill Credit Ltd ChD 12-Mar-2008
The claimant said that the defendant bookmakers had been negligent in allowing him to continue betting when they should have known that he was acting under an addiction. The defendant company had a policy for achieving responsible gambling, . .
CitedCorr v IBC Vehicles Ltd HL 27-Feb-2008
The claimant’s husband had committed suicide. She sought damages for financial loss from his former employers under the 1976 Act. He had suffered a severe and debilitating injury working for them leading to his depression and suicide. The employers . .
CitedHurst, Regina (on the Application of) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v London Northern District Coroner HL 28-Mar-2007
The claimant’s son had been stabbed to death. She challenged the refusal of the coroner to continue with the inquest with a view to examining the responsibility of any of the police in having failed to protect him.
Held: The question amounted . .
CitedJL, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Justice; Regina (L (A Patient)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 26-Nov-2008
The prisoner was left with serious injury after attempting suicide in prison. He said that there was a human rights duty to hold an investigation into the circumstances leading up to this.
Held: There existed a similar duty to hold an enhanced . .
CitedMitchell and Another v Glasgow City Council HL 18-Feb-2009
(Scotland) The pursuers were the widow and daughter of a tenant of the respondent who had been violently killed by his neighbour. They said that the respondent, knowing of the neighbour’s violent behaviours had a duty of care to the deceased and . .
CitedCommissioner of Police for the Metropolis v Reeves (Joint Administratix of The Estate of Martin Lynch, Deceased) HL 15-Jul-1999
The deceased was a prisoner known to be at risk of committing suicide. Whilst in police custody he hanged himself in his prison cell. The Commissioner accepted that he was in breach of his duty of care to the deceased, but not that that breach was . .
CitedSingularis Holdings Ltd v Daiwa Capital Markets Europe Ltd SC 30-Oct-2019
The Court was asked whether a claim against a bank for breach of the Quincecare duty is defeated if the customer is a company, and the fraudulent payment instructions are given by the company’s Chairman and sole shareholder who is the dominating . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Police, Negligence

Leading Case

Updated: 25 April 2022; Ref: scu.135115