Elliott v Chief Constable of Wiltshire and Others: ChD 20 Nov 1996

Vice-Chancellor was asked to consider whether to strike out a statement of claim based upon alleged misfeasance by a police officer in his public office. The allegation against the police officer was that he had deliberately and falsely supplied details of convictions to the press. The point taken was that it was not concerned with a police officer ‘purporting to exercise any relevant power’ and on that basis it was suggested that the pleading should be struck out.
Held: 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 public office that has allegedly been abused. A police officer may, out of hours and not in uniform, commit an assault. In doing so, he does not abuse his office as a police officer, notwithstanding that he will of course be liable for damages for assault and may have committed a criminal offence. On the other hand, a police officer who, as a police officer, affects an arrest but does so unlawfully, either without reasonable cause or with excessive violence, and with a malicious motive – for example, with the intention of revenging himself against an individual against whom he has a grudge – does, I would have thought, clearly abuse his office. Both cases involve unlawful assault, but the latter involves also, as the former does not, an abuse of office.
I have taken the example of assault for the purpose of making the point which I think underlies Mr Rubin’s submissions. The distinction is no different if the injury caused by the conduct complained of is economic, as in the present case, rather than physical, as in my examples. Nor, in my view, does it matter whether the conduct complained of is physical or consists, as it does in the present case, of the giving of information. In either case there must, in my view, be a connection between the misconduct complained of and the office of which the misconduct is an alleged abuse. I express no view as to whether a mere omission could ever suffice.
In the present case, on the pleadings, there is, in my opinion, the requisite connection. The senior police officer, who provided the information to the news editor, was, it is to be inferred, in possession of the information about the convictions, or at least that part of the information that was true, because he was a police officer. The inference is that either he, or some subordinate acting on his instructions, had obtained information about the plaintiff from the National Police Computer. So the police officer came into possession of that information in his capacity as, and because of his office of, police officer. Second, the senior police officer in giving the information to the news editor was purporting to act in his capacity as a police officer. That that is so is to be inferred from paragraph 9 of the statement of claim. It appears from paragraph 9 that the individual identified himself to the news editor as a senior police officer. Among other things, he said to the news editor, ‘We do not want him down here.’ ‘We’, in that context, must have meant the police. He said that if there were a robbery or rape, the police would ‘pull in’ the plaintiff for questioning. That, too, is an indication that the individual, in supplying the information to the news editor, was speaking as a police officer.
Police officers have a status at common law, and perhaps at statute as well, which is both a privilege and the source of powers and duties. If in the apparent performance of functions pertaining to their office police officers commit misconduct, then if the other ingredients of the tort of misfeasance in public office, and in particular the requisite intention to injure and resulting damage, are present the tort of misfeasance in public office is, in my opinion, made out.’

Sir Richard Scott, V-C
Times 05-Dec-1996, [1996] TLR 693
Data Protection Act 1984 28
England and Wales
CitedCalveley 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 . .
CitedDunlop v The Council of The Municipality of Woollahra PC 28-Feb-1981
(New South Wales) The landowner made and allegation of damage caused to him by the passing planning resolutions, which were in fact invalid, restricting the height of his proposed building.
Held: A local body when exercising a public function . .
CitedRacz v Home Office HL 17-Dec-1993
The Home Office can be liable for the actions of prison officers which amounted to an official misfeasance. The principles of vicarious liability apply as much to misfeasance in public office as to other torts involving malice, knowledge or . .
CitedThree Rivers District Council and Another v The Bank of England (No. 3) ComC 30-Jul-1997
ComC Misfeasance in public office. Assuming ingredients of tort as reported at [1996] 3 ALL ER 558 at 582-3, was claim bound to fail? All plaintiffs’ evidence now available to court. On that evidence plaintiffs . .
CitedNorthern Territory of Australia v Mengel 1995
The whole basis of the tort of misfeasance is the exercise or failure to exercise authority by a public officer other than in an honest attempt to perform the functions of his or her office.
The tort’s genesis is in the deliberate abuse of the . .

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. . .
CitedRegina v Chief Constable for North Wales Police Area Authority ex parte AB and CD etc Admn 10-Jul-1997
The police have power to release limited information about offenders. In this case known paedophiles were staying at a campsite, and their criminal record was disclosed to the site owner. There was no harrassment under s3 of the 1968 Act. On any . .
CitedRegina v Chief Constable of North Wales Police and Others Ex Parte Thorpe and Another; Regina v Chief Constable for North Wales Police Area and others ex parte AB and CB CA 18-Mar-1998
Public Identification of Pedophiles by Police
AB and CB had been released from prison after serving sentences for sexual assaults on children. They were thought still to be dangerous. They moved about the country to escape identification, and came to be staying on a campsite. The police sought . .
CitedCastle v Director of Public Prosecutions Admn 12-Mar-1998
Appeal by case stated from conviction of possession of firearms (air rifles) within five years of release from prison. The court was asked as to whether they were ‘lethal’
Held: The appeal failed: ‘ the Justices were entitled to reach the . .
CitedNT 1 and NT 2 v Google Llc QBD 13-Apr-2018
Right to be Forgotten is not absolute
The two claimants separately had criminal convictions from years before. They objected to the defendant indexing third party web pages which included personal data in the form of information about those convictions, which were now spent. The claims . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Information, Police, Torts – Other

Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.80298