Fisher v Oldham Corporation: KBD 1930

On Officer was subject to a claim for false imprisonment on an unlawful arrest, and it was asserted that the Watch Committee of the local authority were vicariously liable. The plaintiff pointed to his Oath of Office: ‘I . . . . . . . . . of . . . . . . . . . Street in the borough of Oldham do declare that I will well and truly serve and act as a constable of the said borough of Oldham for preserving the peace by day and by night and preventing robberies and other felonies and misdemeanours and apprehending offenders against the peace.’ The court examined the authorities as to the relationship between police officers and local authorities.
Held: The police were not the servants or agents of the Watch Committee of a borough corporation so as to make the corporation civilly liable for wrongs committed by the police. The police perform their duties as constables wholly independently of the Watch Committee. McCardle J illustrated the situation: ‘Suppose that a police officer arrested a man for a serious felony? Suppose, too, that the watch committee of the borough at once passed a resolution directing that the felon should be released? Of what value would such a resolution be? Not only would it be the plain duty of the police officer to disregard the resolution, but it would also be the duty of the Chief Constable to consider whether an information should not at once be laid against the members of the Watch Committee for a conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice.’
As to the argument that the Watch Committee were the officer’s employee, McArdle J said: ‘Prima facie, therefore, a police constable is not the servant of the borough. He is a servant of the State, a ministerial officer of the central power, though subject, in some respects, to local supervision and local regulation.’
In distinguishing obiter dicta in Wallwork v Fielding, that ‘The relations are those of employer and employee’ McCardle J said: ‘This . . is only an obiter dictum . . The words, of course, go too far if they are meant to imply that the relation between a corporation and a police officer is the normal relation of master and servant. Only in a special and limited sense can a police officer be said to be in the employ of the municipal corporation. With respect to the action for ‘wages’ as they are called in that case . . I think the point may well be raised some day whether any such action will lie in so far as it is framed upon an alleged contract of service in the ordinary sense. Any such action may perhaps be more properly brought on a special footing – namely on the duty of the defendants to pay such sum as is due by virtue of statutory obligation plus a certain degree of contractual relationship.’


McCardie J


[1930] 2 KB 364, 28 LGR 293, [1930] All ER 96, 99 LJKB 569, 143 LT 281, 94 JP 132, 46 TLR 390, 74 Sol Jo 299, 29 Cox CC 154


England and Wales


DistinguishedWallwork v Fielding CA 1922
A borough police constable sued the watch committee to recover his pay for a period during which he had been suspended by the defendant from duty, for an offence against discipline. The defendants alleged that the plaintiff was properly suspended . .

Cited by:

CitedRegina v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex Parte Northumbria Police Authority CA 18-Nov-1987
The Authority appealed from refusal of judicial review of a circular issued by the respondent as to the supply of Plastic Baton Rounds and CS gas from central resources only. The authority suggested that the circular amounted to permission for the . .
CitedConway v Rimmer HL 28-Feb-1968
Crown Privilege for Documents held by the Polie
The plaintiff probationary police constable had been investigated, prosecuted and cleared of an allegation of theft. He now claimed damages for malicious prosecution, and in the course of the action, sought disclosure of five documents, but these . .
CitedCommissioner of Police for Metropolis v Lowrey-Nesbitt EAT 13-Jul-1998
A police officer does not work under a contract of employment for Employment Rights Act purposes and so may not claim for unlawful deduction from wages under the Act. Employment is a special statutory relationship, not contractual. . .
CitedChief Constable of Cumbria v McGlennon EAT 15-Jul-2002
. .
CitedMcKinnon v The London Borough of Redbridge CA 26-Feb-2014
The court was asked whether a member of the Redbridge Parks Police Service was entitled to make a claim for unfair dismissal. The employment tribunal held that he is so entitled. The Employment Appeal Tribunal reversed that decision.
(Orse . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Police, Local Government, Vicarious Liability

Updated: 01 February 2022; Ref: scu.554754