Evans 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 evidence was offered and she was acquitted. She claimed damages for negligence against the defendants in allowing the organs removed from her son’s body to become contaminated with morphine and in failing to appreciate that the high concentration of morphine revealed by analysis was unlikely to have existed while he was still alive.
Held: Immunity from suit was available to potential witnesses in criminal proceedings at a time when such proceedings were merely in contemplation but had not yet commenced, and covers all conduct that can fairly be said to be part of the investigatory process.
Drake J said: ‘If this object is to be achieved I think it essential that the immunity given to a witness should also extend to cover statements he makes prior to the issue of a writ or commencement of a prosecution, provided that the statement is made for the purpose of a possible action or prosecution and at a time when a possible action or prosecution is being considered. In a large number of criminal cases the police have collected statements from witnesses before anyone is charged with an offence; indeed sometimes before it is known whether or not any criminal offence has been committed . . If immunity did not extend to such statements it would mean that the immunity attached to the giving of evidence in court or the formal statements made in preparation for the court hearing could easily be outflanked and rendered of little use. For the same reason I think that the immunity must extend also to the acts of the witness in collecting or considering material on which he may later be called to give evidence. If it does not so extend then a convicted person could, for example, sue the police officers for the allegedly negligent manner in which they had investigated the crime, by complaining that they had wrongly assessed the evidential value of certain matters or had failed to interview possible witnesses whose evidence was thought by the accused to be favourable to him.’


Drake J


[1981] 1 WLR 184, [1981] 1 All ER 715


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedDarker 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 . .
Dicta approvedTaylor 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 . .
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 . .
CitedWestcott v Westcott QBD 30-Oct-2007
The claimant said that his daughter in law had defamed him. She answered that the publication was protected by absolute privilege. She had complained to the police that he had hit her and her infant son.
Held: ‘the process of taking a witness . .
CitedWestcott v Westcott CA 15-Jul-2008
The defendant was the claimant’s daughter in law. In the course of a bitter divorce she made allegations to the police which were investigated but did not lead to a prosecution. The claimant appealed dismissal of his claim for defamation on the . .
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 . .
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 . .
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 . .
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.

Negligence, Torts – Other

Updated: 16 May 2022; Ref: scu.184732