Darker v Chief Constable of The West Midlands Police: HL 1 Aug 2000

The plaintiffs had been indicted on counts alleging conspiracy to import drugs and conspiracy to forge traveller’s cheques. During the criminal trial it emerged that there had been such inadequate disclosure by the police that the proceedings were stayed as an abuse of process. The plaintiffs then instituted civil proceedings alleging conspiracy to injure and misfeasance in public office. The defendants sought to have those proceedings struck out on the ground that the acts alleged were protected by absolute privilege or immunity.
Held: There can be no general immunity from suit for the police for actions which might amount to a conspiracy to injure and from misfeasance in public office. The investigations of officers must receive some protection, and the protection to be given to witnesses must go beyond the issuing of words in the witness box, but could not extend to every preparatory act. The distinction is founded in the giving of evidence. The fabrication of notes which might be used to support evidence could not receive protection.
‘To establish the tort of malicious prosecution the plaintiff must prove absence of reasonable and probable cause for a prosecution, and notwithstanding that there is reasonable and probable cause to prosecute a suspect should be entitled to sue the police for malicious and dishonest conduct in fabricating evidence against him.’
Lord Hutton said: ‘The underlying rationale of the immunity given to a witness is to ensure that persons who may be witnesses in other cases in the future will not be deterred from giving evidence by fear of being sued for what they say in court. This immunity has been extended, as I have described, to proofs of evidence and to prevent witnesses being sued for conspiracy to give false evidence. But the immunity in essence relates to the giving of evidence. There is, in my opinion, a distinction in principle between what a witness says in court (or what in a proof of evidence a prospective witness states he will say in court) and the fabrication of evidence, such as the forging of a suspect’s signature to a confession or a police officer writing down in his notebook words which a suspect did not say or a police officer planting a brick or drugs on a suspect. In practice the distinction may appear to be a fine one, as, for example, between the police officer who does not claim to have made a note, but falsely says in the witness box that the suspect made a verbal confession to him (for which statement the police officer has immunity), and a police officer who, to support the evidence he will give in court, fabricates a note containing an admission which the suspect never made. But I consider that the distinction is a real one and that the first example comes within the proper ambit of the immunity and the other does not.’
and ‘But I consider that the position is different where, as alleged by the plaintiffs in this case, steps are taken prior to the making of a statement of evidence, not for the purpose of making a statement of evidence which the maker intends to be an accurate and truthful one, but for the wrongful purpose of fabricating false evidence which would be referred to in an untruthful statement of evidence. In my opinion immunity should be extended to cover the wrongful fabrication of evidence or of a note which will purport to be used to refresh the memory of the witness in the witness box and which will give the impression to the jury that there is support for the witness’s false statement that the suspect made an admission. This view is not in conflict with the principle that immunity (where it exists) is given to a malicious and dishonest witness as well as to an honest witness, and I think that the honest (though negligent) examination of articles to enable a statement of evidence to be made comes within the concept of the preparation of a statement of evidence, whereas the deliberate fabrication of evidence to be referred to in a statement of evidence does not come within that concept. It follows that, in my opinion, the Court of Appeal in Silcott v Comr of Police of the Metropolis 8 Admin LR 633 was in error in stating the immunity rule as widely as it did.’
Lord Hope of Craighead said: ‘The question that has been raised relates to the further extent of the immunity. Where are the boundaries to be drawn? It arises because there is another factor that must always be balanced against the public interest in matters relating to the administration of justice. It is the principle that a wrong ought not to be without a remedy. The immunity is a derogation from a person’s right of access to the court which requires to be justified.’
Lord Cooke of Thorndon said:
‘Absolute immunity is in principle inconsistent with the rule of law but in a few, strictly limited, categories of cases it has to be granted for practical reasons. It is granted grudgingly, the standard formulation of the test for inclusion of a case in any of the categories being Sir Thaddeus McCarthy P’s proposition in Rees v Sinclair [1974] 1 NZLR 180, 187, ‘The protection should not be given any wider application than is absolutely necessary in the interests of the administration of justice …’.’
Lord Clyde said: ‘It is temptingly easy to talk of the application of immunities from civil liability in general terms. But since the immunity may cut across the rights of others to a legal remedy and so runs counter to the policy that no wrong should be without a remedy, it should be only allowed with reluctance, and should not readily be extended. It should only be allowed where it is necessary to do so.’

Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Cooke of Thorndon Lord Clyde Lord Hutton
Gazette 17-Aug-2000, Times 01-Aug-2000, [2000] UKHL 44, [2001] AC 435, [2000] 3 WLR 747
House of Lords, Bailii
England and Wales
Appeal fromDocker, Head, and others v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police CA 17-Mar-1998
Immunity from suit for abuse of process attaching to judicial process was attached also to steps taken as part of the investigation of a crime with a view to a possible prosecution of the matter. Auld LJ said: ‘The whole point of the public policy . .
ApprovedDawkins v Lord Rokeby 1873
Police officers (among others) are immune from any action that may be brought against them on the ground that things said or done by them in the ordinary course of the proceedings were said or done falsely and maliciously and without reasonable and . .
CitedMunster v Lamb CA 1883
Judges and witness, including police officers are given immunity from suit in defamation in court proceedings.
Fry LJ said: ‘Why should a witness be able to avail himself of his position in the box and to make without fear of civil consequences . .
CitedRoy v Prior HL 1970
The court considered an alleged tort of maliciously procuring an arrest. The plaintiff had been arrested under a bench warrant issued as a result of evidence given by the defendant. He sued the defendant for damages for malicious arrest.
Held: . .
CitedWatson v M’Ewan HL 1905
A claim was brought against a medical witness in respect of statements made in preparation of a witness statement and similar statements subsequently made in court. The appellant was a doctor of medicine who had been retained by the respondent in . .
CitedSilcott v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis CA 24-May-1996
The claimant had been convicted of the murder of PC Blakelock. The only substantial evidence was in the form of the notes of interview he said were fabricated by senior officers. His eventual appeal on this basis was not resisted. He now appealed . .
CitedTaylor and Others v Director of The Serious Fraud Office and Others HL 29-Oct-1998
The defendant had requested the Isle of Man authorities to investigate the part if any taken by the plaintiff in a major fraud. No charges were brought against the plaintiff, but the documents showing suspicion came to be disclosed in the later . .
CitedEvans v London Hospital Medical College and Others 1981
The defendants employed by the first defendant carried out a post mortem on the plaintiff’s infant son. They found concentrations of morphine and told the police. The plaintiff was charged with the murder of her son. After further investigation no . .
CitedX (Minors) v Bedfordshire County Council; M (A Minor) and Another v Newham London Borough Council; Etc HL 29-Jun-1995
Liability in Damages on Statute Breach to be Clear
Damages were to be awarded against a Local Authority for breach of statutory duty in a care case only if the statute was clear that damages were capable of being awarded. in the ordinary case a breach of statutory duty does not, by itself, give rise . .
CitedStanton and Another v Callaghan and Others CA 8-Jul-1998
The defendant, a structural engineer, was retained by the plaintiffs in a claim against insurers for the costs of remedying subsidence of the plaintiffs’ house. He advised total underpinning for pounds 77,000, but later while preparing a joint . .
CitedHill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire HL 28-Apr-1987
No General ty of Care Owed by Police
The mother of a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper claimed in negligence against the police alleging that they had failed to satisfy their duty to exercise all reasonable care and skill to apprehend the perpetrator of the murders and to protect members . .
CitedElguzouli-Daf v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and Another CA 16-Nov-1994
The Court upheld decisions striking out actions for negligence brought by claimants who had been arrested and held in custody during criminal investigations which were later discontinued. The Crown Prosecution Service owes no general duty of care to . .
CitedBennett v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis Admn 24-Oct-1997
Police and prosecuting authority have no inherent immunity from suit for tort of misfeasance in public office if the breach is properly made out. Immunity extends to statements made or agreed to be made out of court ‘if these were clearly and . .
CitedCutler v Dixon KBD 1585
‘It was adjudged, that if one exhibits articles to justices of peace against a certain person, containing divers great abuses and misdemeanors, not only concerning the petitioners themselves, but many others, and all this to the intent that he . .
CitedHenderson v Broomhead 1859
Immunity attaches to what persons who may be called to give evidence say or do before the court. It is an immunity ‘for words spoken or written in the course of any judicial proceeding’. . .
CitedLincoln v Daniels CA 1961
The defendant claimed absolute immunity in respect of communications sent by him to the Bar Council alleging professional misconduct by the plaintiff, a Queen’s Counsel.
Held: Initial communications sent to the secretary of the Bar Council . .
CitedMarrinan v Vibart CA 2-Jan-1962
Two police officers gave evidence in a criminal prosecution of others, that the plaintiff, a barrister, had behaved improperly by obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty and subsequently gave similar evidence at an inquiry before . .
CitedHunter v Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police HL 19-Nov-1981
No collateral attack on Jury findigs.
An attempt was made to open up in a civil action, allegations of assaults by the police prior to the making of confessions which had been disposed of in a voir dire in the course of a criminal trial. The plaintiffs had imprisoned having spent many . .
CitedIn re McC (A Minor); McC v Mullan HL 1984
The House considered the immunity from suit of judges. The Magistrate here had passed a custodial sentence on a minor without complying with a statutory provision which required him to inform the offender of the right to Legal Aid.
Held: The . .

Cited by:
CitedKeegan and Others v Chief Constable of Merseyside CA 3-Jul-2003
The police had information suggesting (wrongly) that a fugitive resided at an address. An armed raid followed, and the claimant occupant sought damages.
Held: The tort of malicious procurement of a search warrant required it to be established . .
CitedHeath v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis CA 20-Jul-2004
The female civilian officer alleged sex discrimination against her by a police officer. Her complaint was heard at an internal disciplinary. She alleged sexual harrassment, and was further humiliated by the all male board’s treatment of her . .
CitedMeadow v General Medical Council Admn 17-Feb-2006
The appellant challenged being struck off the medical register. He had given expert evidence in a criminal case which was found misleading and to have contributed to a wrongful conviction for murder.
Held: The evidence though mistaken was . .
CitedGeneral Medical Council v Professor Sir Roy Meadow, Attorney General CA 26-Oct-2006
The GMC appealed against the dismissal of its proceedings for professional misconduct against the respondent doctor, whose expert evidence to a criminal court was the subject of complaint. The doctor said that the evidence given by him was . .
CitedWalsh v Staines and others ChD 26-Jul-2007
The defendants applied to strike out a claim based on an allegation of a fraudulent deceit and conspiracy in earlier proceedings between the parties. It was said that the defendant solicitors had represented that their client had funds to support an . .
CitedLake v British Transport Police CA 5-May-2007
The claimant challenged dismissal of his claim of having suffered an unfair detriment having made a disclosure with regard to his employers. The employers had said that as a constable, his employment was outside the scope of the Act, and the . .
CitedJones v Kaney SC 30-Mar-2011
An expert witness admitted signing a joint report but without agreeing to it. The claimant who had lost his case now pursued her in negligence. The claimant appealed against a finding that the expert witness was immune from action.
Held: The . .
CitedIqbal v Mansoor and Others QBD 26-Aug-2011
The claimant sought the disapplication of the limitation period in order to pursue the defendant solicitors, his former employers, in defamation. . .
CitedHowarth v Gwent Constabulary and Another QBD 1-Nov-2011
The claimant alleged malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office against the defendant. He had been charged with perverting the course of justice. He had worked for a firm of solicitors specialising in defending road traffic prosecutions. . .
CitedAccident Exchange Ltd v Autofocus Ltd QBD 16-Dec-2009
The claimant wished to allege that in earlier proceedings, the defendant’s employees had systematically given false evidence. The defendant now sought the strike out of the claim on the basis of witness immunity.
Held: The application failed. . .
CitedSmart v The Forensic Science Service Ltd CA 2-Jul-2013
On a search of his house, the police found a bullet cartridge on the claimant’s property. It was sent for testing but due to a mistake it was reported as a live cartridge. The prosecution was only dropped after some months when the mistake was . .
CitedSingh v Moorlands Primary School and Another CA 25-Jul-2013
The claimant was a non-white head teacher, alleging that her school governors and local authority had undermined and had ‘deliberately endorsed a targeted campaign of discrimination, bullying, harassment and victimisation’ against her as an Asian . .
CitedCrawford v Jenkins CA 24-Jul-2014
The parties had divorced but acrimony continued. H now complained of his arrests after allegations from his former wife that he had breached two orders. He had been released and no charges followed. The court had ruled that W’s complaints were . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Police, Torts – Other

Leading Case

Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.80082