Osman v The United Kingdom: ECHR 28 Oct 1998

Police’s Complete Immunity was Too Wide

(Grand Chamber) A male teacher developed an obsession with a male pupil. He changed his name by deed poll to the pupil’s surname. He was required to teach at another school. The pupil’s family’s property was subjected to numerous acts of vandalism, which the police investigated and in respect of which they interviewed the teacher, who denied responsibility but whom, albeit without the evidence with which to prosecute, they considered to be the culprit. To the knowledge of the police the teacher perpetrated other irrational, criminal acts and announced ‘in a few months I’ll be doing life’. To his employers he said that he proposed to do ‘a sort of Hungerford’. On three occasions within a week he was seen, to the knowledge of the police, outside the pupil’s family home and, later that week, he killed the pupil’s father and seriously wounded the pupil. The claimants asserted that the killer had been known to be a threat, but that insufficient protection had been given by the police.
Held: The UK’s complete immunity for the police for operational decisions was too broad, and it was capable of infringing the human right of protection of life. An absolute rule denying access to courts was disproportionate to the needs of the police.
Article 2(1) may, depending on the facts, impose a duty on a public authority to take all reasonable steps to protect a person from a real and immediate risk to his life. ‘It is sufficient for an applicant to show that the authorities did not do all that could reasonably be expected of them to avoid a real and immediate risk to life of which they have or ought to have knowledge.’
As to the levels of damages: ‘The Court notes that it conducts its assessment of what an applicant is entitled to by way of just satisfaction in accordance with the principles laid down in its case law under Article 50 and not by reference to the principles or scales of assessment used by domestic courts.’

Bernhardt P
Times 05-Nov-1998, 23452/94, 87/1997/871/1083, [1999] 1 FLR 193, [1998] ECHR 101, 5 BHRC 293, (2000) 29 EHRR 245, [1999] Fam Law 86, [1998] HRCD 966, [1999] Crim LR 82, (1999) 163 JPN 297, (1999) 11 Admin LR 200
Worldlii, Bailii
European Convention on Human Rights 2 6
Human Rights
Citing:
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 . .
CitedGolder v The United Kingdom ECHR 21-Feb-1975
G was a prisoner who was refused permission by the Home Secretary to consult a solicitor with a view to bringing libel proceedings against a prison officer. The court construed article 6 of ECHR, which provides that ‘in the determination of his . .
CitedThe Republic of Ireland v The United Kingdom ECHR 18-Jan-1978
The UK lodged a derogation with the Court as regards its human rights obligations in Northern Ireland because of the need to control terroist activity. The Government of Ireland intervened. From August 1971 until December 1975 the UK authorities . .
CitedMcCann and Others v The United Kingdom ECHR 6-Oct-1995
mccann_ukECHR1995
Wrong assumptions made by police officers in the killing of terrorists amounted to a human rights breach, despite the existence of danger to the public of an imminent attack. Article 2(1) is ‘one of the most fundamental provisions in the . .
CitedLCB v The United Kingdom ECHR 9-Jun-1998
The court had no jurisdiction to consider allegations not raised before the commission or predating a country’s accession to the convention. There was no breach in a failure to record an exposure to radiation in a test. Article 2 imposes substantive . .
CitedTinnelly and Sons Ltd and Others and McElduff and Others v United Kingdom ECHR 10-Jul-1998
Legislation which disallowed claimants who asserted that they had been discriminated against, on the grounds of their religious background, from appealing through the courts system, was a clear breach of their human rights. A limitation will not be . .
CitedDorset Yacht Co Ltd v Home Office HL 6-May-1970
A yacht was damaged by boys who had escaped from the supervision of prison officers in a nearby Borstal institution. The boat owners sued the Home Office alleging negligence by the prison officers.
Held: Any duty of a borstal officer to use . .
CitedDawson v Vasandau 1863
It is not necessary for a charging officer to believe that the prosecution will result in a conviction before charging a prisoner. . .
CitedHicks v Faulkner 1878
Before charging a prisoner, a police officer must have ‘an honest belief in the guilt of the accused based upon a full conviction, founded upon reasonable grounds, of the existence of a state of circumstances, which, assuming them to be true, would . .
CitedGlinski v McIver HL 1962
The court considered the tort of malicious prosecution when committed by a police officer, saying ‘But these cases must be carefully watched so as to see that there really is some evidence from his conduct that he knew it was a groundless charge.’ . .
CitedHussein v Chang Fook Kam PC 1970
In determining whether the information available to an officer is sufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion and charge, the test to be applied by a police officer is ‘Suspicion in its ordinary meaning is a state of conjuncture or surmise . .
CitedGolder v The United Kingdom ECHR 21-Feb-1975
G was a prisoner who was refused permission by the Home Secretary to consult a solicitor with a view to bringing libel proceedings against a prison officer. The court construed article 6 of ECHR, which provides that ‘in the determination of his . .
CitedDirector of Public Prosecutions v P HL 1991
The defendant faced specimen counts of rape and incest against each of his two daughters. The trial judge refused an application for separate trials in respect of the offences alleged against each daughter. The defendant was convicted.
Held: . .
Appeal followingOsman and another v Ferguson and another CA 7-Oct-1992
Limits of Police duty to protect
A schoolmaster developed an infatuation for a teenage pupil. It led to the killing of the pupil’s father, the wounding of the pupil, the wounding of a deputy headmaster and the killing of the deputy headmaster’s son. Mr Osman’s widow and the pupil . .
CitedSwinney and Another v Chief Constable of Northumbria CA 22-Mar-1996
The plaintiff, a woman and her husband, had passed on information in confidence to the police about the identity of a person implicated in the killing of a police officer, expressing her concern that she did not want the source of the information to . .
CitedRegina v Dytham CACD 1979
A constable was 30 yards away from the entrance to a club, from which he saw a man ejected. There was a fight involving cries and screams and the man was beaten and kicked to death in the gutter outside the club. The constable made no move to . .
CitedKnightley v Johns and others CA 27-Mar-1981
There had been an accident in a tunnel, blocking it. The defendant inspector ordered a traffic constable to ride into the tunnel on his motorcycle against the flow of traffic. The constable crashed and sought damages for negligence against the . .
CitedRigby and another v Chief Constable of Northamptonshire 1985
The police were found liable to pay damages for negligence having fired a gas canister into the plaintiffs’ gunsmith’s hop premises in order to flush out a dangerous psychopath. There had been a real and substantial fire risk in firing the canister . .
CitedKirkham v Anderton, The Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester police CA 20-Dec-1989
The claimant’s husband hanged himself in Risley Remand Centre after the police had failed to warn the prison authorities that he was (as the police knew) a suicide risk. He was suffering from clinical depression and had previously attempted suicide . .

Cited by:
CitedRegina (A and Others) v Lord Saville of Newdigate and Others QBD 16-Nov-2001
When making a decision which would interfere with the human rights of an individual, and even where the risks from which protections was sought, could be seen as small, it was the duty of the decision maker to justify the interference. The . .
CitedRegina (A and others) (Widgery Soldiers) v Lord Saville of Newdigate and Others CA 19-Dec-2001
The court would apply common sense in deciding whether soldier witnesses should be obliged to attend in person at an enquiry in Londonderry, where they claimed their lives would be at risk. It was not appropriate to seek to define what would be . .
CitedMatthews v Ministry of Defence HL 13-Feb-2003
The claimant sought damages against the Crown, having suffered asbestosis whilst in the armed forces. He challenged the denial to him of a right of action by the 1947 Act.
Held: Human rights law did not create civil rights, but rather voided . .
CitedPretty v The United Kingdom ECHR 29-Apr-2002
Right to Life Did Not include Right to Death
The applicant was paralysed and suffered a degenerative condition. She wanted her husband to be allowed to assist her suicide by accompanying her to Switzerland. English law would not excuse such behaviour. She argued that the right to die is not . .
CitedBloggs 61, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department CA 18-Jun-2003
The applicant sought review of a decision to remove him from a witness protection scheme within the prison. He claimed that having been promised protection, he had a legitimate expectation of protection, having been told he would receive protection . .
CitedRegina v Chief Constable of Norfolk, ex parte DF Admn 2002
Test for need for police protection
The court considered the duties of the police to protect the applicants.
Held: The search for a phrase which encapsulates a threshold of risk which engages article 2 is a search for a chimera. The degree of risk described as ‘real and . .
CitedMunjaz v Mersey Care National Health Service Trust And the Secretary of State for Health, the National Association for Mental Health (Mind) Respondent interested; CA 16-Jul-2003
The claimant was a mental patient under compulsory detention, and complained that he had been subjected to periods of seclusion.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The hospital had failed to follow the appropriate Code of Practice. The Code was not . .
CitedKhan, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Health CA 10-Oct-2003
The claimant’s child had died as a result of negligence in hospital. The parents had been told the result of police investigation and decision not to prosecute, and the hospital’s own investigation, but had not been sufficiently involved. There . .
CitedAmin, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 16-Oct-2003
Prisoner’s death – need for full public enquiry
The deceased had been a young Asian prisoner. He was placed in a cell overnight with a prisoner known to be racist, extremely violent and mentally unstable. He was killed. The family sought an inquiry into the death.
Held: There had been a . .
CitedMiddleton, Regina (on the Application of) v Coroner for the Western District of Somerset HL 11-Mar-2004
The deceased had committed suicide in prison. His family felt that the risk should have been known to the prison authorities, and that they had failed to guard against that risk. The coroner had requested an explanatory note from the jury.
CitedGreenfield, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 16-Feb-2005
The appellant had been charged with and disciplined for a prison offence. He was refused legal assistance at his hearing, and it was accepted that the proceedings involved the determination of a criminal charge within the meaning of article 6 of the . .
CitedA, Re Application for Judicial Review QBNI 25-Jun-2001
The applicant, who feared for his life if identified, sought the release to him of materials discovered by the police in searching premises associated with a loyalist paramiliitary group. He thought that they might include information sourced form . .
CitedJD v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust and others HL 21-Apr-2005
Parents of children had falsely and negligently been accused of abusing their children. The children sought damages for negligence against the doctors or social workers who had made the statements supporting the actions taken. The House was asked if . .
CitedRegina v Ashworth Hospital Authority (Now Mersey Care National Health Service Trust) ex parte Munjaz HL 13-Oct-2005
The claimant was detained in a secure Mental Hospital. He complained at the seclusions policy applied by the hospital, saying that it departed from the Guidance issued for such policies by the Secretary of State under the Act.
Held: The House . .
CitedPlymouth City Council v HM Coroner for the County of Devon and Another Admn 27-May-2005
The local authority in whose care the deceased child had been held challenged a decision by the coroner not to limit his inquiry to the last few days of the child’s life. The coroner had decided that he had an obligation to conduct a wider enquiry . .
CitedGentle and Others, Regina (on the Application of) v the Prime Minister and others Admn 20-Dec-2005
The applicants sought leave to bring judicial review of the decisions which led to the invasion of Iraq. They were relatives of servicemen who had died there.
Held: The court’s only duty at this stage was to ask whether there was an arguable . .
CitedVan Colle v Hertfordshire Police QBD 10-Mar-2006
The claimants claimed for the estate of their murdered son. He had been waiting to give evidence in a criminal trial, and had asked the police for support having received threats. Other witnesses had also suffered intimidation including acts of . .
CitedC Plc and W v P and Secretary of State for the Home Office and the Attorney General ChD 26-May-2006
cplc_pChD2006
The claimant sought damages from the first defendant for breach of copyright. An ex parte search order had been executed, with the defendant asserting his privilege against self-incrimination. As computer disks were examined, potentially unlawful . .
CitedRegina v Davis (Iain); Regina v Ellis, Regina v Gregory, Regina v Simms, Regina v Martin CACD 19-May-2006
The several defendants complained at the use at their trials of evidence given anonymously. The perceived need for anonymity arose because, from intimidation, the witnesses would not be willing to give their evidence without it.
Held: The . .
CitedHolland v Lampen-Wolfe HL 20-Jul-2000
The US established a base at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, and provided educational services through its staff to staff families. The claimant a teacher employed at the base alleged that a report on her was defamatory. The defendant relied on state . .
CitedVan Colle and Another v Chief Constable of the Hertfordshire Police CA 24-Apr-2007
The deceased had acted as a witness in an intended prosecution. He had sought protection after being threatened. No effective protection was provided, and he was murdered. The chief constable appealed a finding of liability.
Held: The . .
CitedSavage v South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Another CA 21-Dec-2007
The claimant said that the defendant hospital had been negligent in failing to prevent her daughter escaping from the mental hospital at which she was detained and committing suicide.
Held: The status of a detained mental patient was more akin . .
CitedK v Central and North West London Mental Health NHS Trust and Another QBD 30-May-2008
k_centralQBD2008
The claimant appealed against an order striking out his claim in negligence. He had leaped from a window in a suicide attempt. The accommodation was provided by the defendant whilst caring for him under the 1983 Act.
Held: The case should be . .
CitedHurst, Regina (on the Application of) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v London Northern District Coroner HL 28-Mar-2007
The claimant’s son had been stabbed to death. She challenged the refusal of the coroner to continue with the inquest with a view to examining the responsibility of any of the police in having failed to protect him.
Held: The question amounted . .
CitedHertfordshire Police v Van Colle; Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex Police HL 30-Jul-2008
Police Obligations to Witnesses is Limited
A prosecution witness was murdered by the accused shortly before his trial. The parents of the deceased alleged that the failure of the police to protect their son was a breach of article 2.
Held: The House was asked ‘If the police are alerted . .
CitedHaddock v MGN Ltd and others ChNI 17-Oct-2008
Application for injunction to prevent the defendant newspapers and television companies from publishing the plaintiff’s picture in the course of a forthcoming civil action. He was coming toward the end of a long term of imprisonment. Whilst on . .
CitedOneryildiz v Turkey ECHR 18-Jun-2002
(Grand Chamber) The applicant had lived with his family in a slum bordering on a municipal house-hold refuse tip. A methane explosion at the tip resulted in a landslide which engulfed the applicant’s house, killing his close relatives. The applicant . .
CitedRe E (A Child); E v Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Another (Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and others intervening) HL 12-Nov-2008
(Northern Ireland) Children had been taken to school in the face of vehement protests from Loyalists. The parents complained that the police had failed to protect them properly, since the behaviour was so bad as to amount to inhuman or degrading . .
CitedJL, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Justice; Regina (L (A Patient)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 26-Nov-2008
The prisoner was left with serious injury after attempting suicide in prison. He said that there was a human rights duty to hold an investigation into the circumstances leading up to this.
Held: There existed a similar duty to hold an enhanced . .
CitedSavage v South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (MIND intervening) HL 10-Dec-2008
The deceased had committed suicide on escaping from a mental hospital. The Trust appealed against a refusal to strike out the claim that that they had been negligent in having inadequate security.
Held: The Trust’s appeal failed. The fact that . .
CitedRabone and Another v Pennine Care NHS Trust CA 21-Jun-2010
The claimant’s daughter had committed suicide after being given home leave on a secure ward by the respondent mental hospital. A claim in negligence had been settled, but the parents now appealed refusal of their claim that the hospital had failed . .
CitedQ, Regina (on The Application of) v Q Constabulary and Another Admn 17-Mar-2011
The claimant renewed his request for an order against the defendant that he should be given a place on a witness protection scheme. He had given evidence for the prosecution in a gangland murder trial. A risk assessment had identified a risk ‘real . .
CitedBryant and Others, Regina (on The Application of) v The Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis Admn 23-May-2011
Several claimants sought leave to bring judicial review of decisions taken by the defendant in the investigation of suggestions that their telephone answering systems had been intercepted by people working for the News of the World. They said that . .
CitedRabone and Another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation SC 8-Feb-2012
The claimant’s daughter had committed suicide whilst on home leave from a hospital where she had stayed as a voluntary patient with depression. Her admission had followed a suicide attempt. The hospital admitted negligence but denied that it owed . .
CitedMichael and Others v South Wales Police and Another CA 20-Jul-2012
The deceased had called the police and said her life was under immediate threat. An officer downgraded its seriousness, and she was killed within 15 minutes by her partner, and before the officers arrived. She had sought assistance four times . .
CitedIn re A (A Child) SC 12-Dec-2012
A woman, X, had made an allegation in confidence she had been sexually assaulted as a child. The court was asked whether that confidence could be overriden to allow an investigation to protect if necessary a child still living with the man. Evidence . .
CitedH v A (No2) FD 17-Sep-2015
The court had previously published and then withdrawn its judgment after third parties had been able to identify those involved by pulling together media and internet reports with the judgment.
Held: The judgment case should be published in . .
CitedMastromatteo v Italy ECHR 24-Oct-2002
The deceased had been a bystander killed by a group of criminals, some of whom were on leave of absence from prison and one of whom had absconded from prison. A complaint was made by the applicant that there had been a breach of the positive duty to . .
CitedSarjantson v Humberside Police CA 18-Oct-2013
The claimant had been severely injured in an attack by a group of young men. He said that the defendant had failed in its duty to protect him and his family. He nw appealed against the action being struck out.
Held: the judge’s interpretation . .
CitedGorovenky And Bugara v Ukraine ECHR 12-Jan-2012
The applicants’ relatives were shot by an off-duty police officer. They complained that the state had failed to exercise requisite control over the procedure for equipping police officers with a weapon. They alleged that there had been a breach of . .
CitedMichael and Others v The Chief Constable of South Wales Police and Another SC 28-Jan-2015
The claimants asserted negligence in the defendant in failing to provide an adequate response to an emergency call, leading, they said to the death of their daughter at the hands of her violent partner. They claimed also under the 1998 Act. The . .
CitedTyrrell v HM Senior Coroner County Durham and Darlington and Another Admn 26-Jul-2016
The court was aked what article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights requires of a coroner when a serving prisoner dies of natural causes.
Held: The reuest for judicial review failed. Mr Tyrrell’s death was, from the outset, one which . .
CitedCommissioner of Police of The Metropolis v DSD and Another SC 21-Feb-2018
Two claimants had each been sexually assaulted by a later notorious, multiple rapist. Each had made complaints to police about their assaults but said that no effective steps had been taken to investigate the serious complaints.
Held: The . .
CitedDB v Chief Constable of Police Service of Northern Ireland SC 1-Feb-2017
The appellant said that the police Service of Northern Ireland had failed properly to police the ‘flags protest’ in 2012 and 2013. The issue was not as to the care and effort taken, but an alleged misunderstanding of their powers.
Held: Treacy . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Police, Human Rights, Negligence

Leading Case

Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.165671