Martin v Watson: HL 13 Jul 1995

The plaintiff had been falsely reported to the police by the defendant, a neighbour, for indecent exposure whilst standing on a ladder in his garden. He had been arrested and charged, but at a hearing before the Magistrates’ Court, the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence, and the charge was dismissed. He appealed against the decision that he could not claim in malicious prosecution.
Held: The appeal succeeded, though there was no English authority on the topic. Since the facts relating to the alleged offence were solely within the complainant’s knowledge, and that as a practical matter the police officer who laid the information could not have exercised any independent discretion, the complainant could be sued for malicious prosecution, and upheld an award of damages against her. The complainant had ‘in substance procured the prosecution’. The police officer to whom the complaint was made had no way of testing the truthfulness of the accusation.
The tort of malicious prosecution can be committed by a informer knowingly and maliciously laying a false complaint to the police. The actions taken by the police are insufficient intervention to interfere with that liability. To ground a claim for malicious prosecution a plaintiff must prove (1) that the law was set in motion against him on a criminal charge; (2) that the prosecution was determined in his favour; (3) that it was without reasonable and proper cause, and (4) that it was malicious.
Lord Keith said: ‘It is common ground that the ingredients of the tort of malicious prosecution are correctly stated in Clerk and Lindsell on Torts ‘In action of malicious prosecution the plaintiff must show first that he was prosecuted by the defendant, that is to say, that the law was set in motion against him on a criminal charge; secondly, that the prosecution was determined in his favour; and thirdly, that it was without reasonable and probable cause; fourthly, that it was malicious.” and ‘The essential feature of malicious prosecution is an abuse of the process of the Court. If that has occurred it is immaterial that the abuse has involved giving evidence in a court of law.’
and ‘Where an individual falsely and maliciously gives a police officer information indicating that some person is guilty of a criminal offence and states that he is willing to give evidence in court of the matters in question, it is properly to be inferred that he desires and intends that the person he names should be prosecuted. Where the circumstances are such that the facts relating to the alleged offence can be within the knowledge only of the complainant, as was the position here, then it becomes virtually impossible for the police officer to exercise any independent discretion or judgment, and if a prosecution is instituted by the police officer the proper view of the matter is that the prosecution has been procured by the complainant.’
Lord Keith also said: ‘Analogies were sought to be drawn with the immunity afforded in respect of evidence given in a court of law, which extends also to statements made to solicitors engaged in preparation for pending proceedings: Watson v M’Ewan . . No such analogy is, however, helpful. The essential feature of malicious prosecution is an abuse of the process of the court. If that has occurred it is immaterial that the abuse has involved giving evidence in a court of law. That was held in Roy v Prior [1971] A.C. 470 in relation to an action for malicious arrest . .
Similar considerations apply to statements made to the police under circumstances where the maker falls to be regarded as having in substance procured the prosecution. There is no way of testing the truthfulness of such statements before the prosecution is brought. To deny any remedy to a person whose liberty has been interfered with as a result of unfounded and malicious accusations in such circumstances would constitute a serious denial of justice.’

Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Slynn of Hadley, Lord Lloyd, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Steyn
Times 14-Jul-1995, Gazette 06-Sep-1995, Independent 19-Jul-1995, [1996] AC 74, [1995] 3 WLR 318, [1995] 3 All ER 559, [1995] UKHL 25
England and Wales
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: . .
Appeal fromMartin v Watson CA 26-Jan-1994
The claimant sought damages for malicious prosecution, saying that the defendant had made a complaint to the police knowing it to be false that the claimant had indecently exposed himself. Acting on the complaint the police had arrested and charged . .
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 . .

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 . .
CitedSinclair v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire and British Telecommunications Plc CA 12-Dec-2000
The claimant had been prosecuted, but the charge was dismissed as an abuse of process. He now appealed a strike out of his civil claim for damages for malicious prosecution.
Held: The appeal failed. The decision to dismiss the criminal charge . .
CitedMahon, Kent v Dr Rahn, Biedermann, Haab-Biedermann, Rahn, and Bodmer (a Partnership) (No 2) CA 8-Jun-2000
The defendant’s lawyers wrote to a financial services regulatory body investigating the possible fraudulent conduct of the plaintiff’s stockbroking firm. The letter was passed to the Serious Fraud Office who later brought criminal proceedings . .
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 . .
CitedMckie vStrathclyde Joint Police Board and others SCS 24-Dec-2003
. .
CitedGregory v Portsmouth City Council CA 5-Nov-1997
The plaintiff councillor had been disciplined by the defendant for allegations. The findings were later overturned, and he now sought damages alleging malicious prosecution.
Held: The categories of malicious prosecution are closed, and it was . .
Leading CaseWestcott 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 . .
CitedAlford v Cambridgeshire Police CA 24-Feb-2009
The claimant police officer had been held after an accident when he was in a high speed pursuit of a vehicle into the neighbouring respondent’s area. The prosecution had been discontinued, and he now appealed against rejection of his claims for . .
CitedHunt v AB CA 22-Oct-2009
The claimant sought damages from a woman in malicious prosecution, saying that she had made a false allegation of rape against him. He had served two years in prison.
Held: The claim failed. A complainant is not a prosecutor, and is not liable . .
CitedThe Ministry of Justice (Sued As The Home Office) v Scott CA 20-Nov-2009
The claimant had been falsely accused of assault by five prison officers. The defendant appealed against a refusal to strike out a claim of of malicious prosecution.
Held: Proceedings for malicious prosecution cannot be regarded as being . .
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 . .
CitedGregory v Portsmouth City Council HL 10-Feb-2000
Disciplinary proceedings had been taken by the local authority against Mr Gregory, a council member, after allegations had been made that he had failed to declare conflicts of interest, and that he had used confidential information to secure a . .
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. . .
CitedCommissioner of Police of The Metropolis v Copeland CA 22-Jul-2014
The defendant appealed against the award of damages for assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosection, saying that the question posed for the jury were misdirections, and that the jury’s decision was perverse. The claimant was attending the . .
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 . .
CitedCXZ v ZXC QBD 26-Jun-2020
Malicious Prosecution needs court involvement
W had made false allegations against her husband of child sex abuse to police. He sued in malicious prosecution. She applied to strike out, and he replied saying that as a developing area of law a strike out was inappropriate.
Held: The claim . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Torts – Other, Police

Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.83445