Roy 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: The action could proceed. Police officers are given a general immunity against suit, in respect of matters occurring at court, to avoid repeated actions challenging their evidence.
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘Immunities conferred by the law in respect of legal proceedings need always to be checked against a broad view of the public interest’. And ‘The reasons why immunity is traditionally (and for this purpose I accept the tradition) conferred upon witnesses in respect of evidence given in court, are in order that they may give their evidence fearlessly and to avoid a multiplicity of actions in which the value or the truth of their evidence would be tried over again’. However immunity does not apply to actions for malicious prosecution where the cause of action consists in abusing legal process by maliciously and without reasonable cause setting the law in motion against the plaintiff. It does not matter that an essential step in setting the law in motion was a statement made by the defendant to a prosecuting authority or even the court.
With reference to ex parte evidence given in support of an application for a bench warrant: ‘To deny a person whose liberty has been interfered with any opportunity of showing that it was ill-founded and malicious does not in the least correspond with, and is a far more serious denial than, the traditional denial of the right to attack a witness to an issue which has been tested and passed upon after a trial. Immunities conferred by the law in respect of legal proceedings need always to be checked against a broad view of the public interest. So checked, the present case provides no justification for protecting absolutely what the solicitor said in court.’
Lord Morris said: ‘If a witness gives false evidence he may be prosecuted if the crime of perjury has been committed but a civil action for damages in respect of the words spoken will not lie.’
and: ‘This however, does not involve that an action which is not brought in respect of evidence given in court but is brought in respect of an alleged abuse of process of court must be defeated if one step in the course of the abuse of the process of the court involved or necessitated the giving of evidence.’
Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest said: ‘What the plaintiff alleges is that the defendant, acting both maliciously and without reasonable cause, procured and brought about his arrest. The plaintiff is not suing the defendant on or in respect of the evidence which the defendant gave in court. The plaintiff is suing the defendant because he alleges that the defendant procured his arrest by means of judicial process which the defendant instituted both maliciously and without reasonable cause. . . The gist of the complaint, where malicious arrest is asserted, is not that some evidence is given (though if evidence is given falsely it may be contended that malice is indicated) but that an arrest has been secured as a result of some malicious proceeding for which there was no reasonable cause . . It must often happen that a defendant who is sued for damages for malicious prosecution will have given evidence in the criminal prosecution of which the plaintiff complains. The essence of the complaint in such a case is that criminal proceedings have been instituted not only without reasonable and probable cause but also maliciously. So also in actions based upon alleged abuses of the process of the court it will often have happened that the court will have been induced to act by reason of some false evidence given by someone. In such cases the actions are not brought on or in respect of any evidence given but in respect of malicious abuse of process (see Elsee v. Smith (1822) 2 Chit. 304).’

Lord Wilberforce, Lord Morris
[1971] AC 470, [1970] 2 All ER 729
England and Wales
CitedElsee v Smith 1822
The court considered a claim that a search warrant had been issued for malice. . .

Cited by:
CitedGibbs and others v Rea PC 29-Jan-1998
(Cayman Islands) The respondent worked for a bank. He disclosed a business interest, but that interest grew in importance to the point where he resigned in circumstances amounting to constructive dismissal. His home and business officers were raided . .
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 . .
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 . .
CitedGray v Avadis QBD 30-Jul-2003
The claimant had made complaints against the defendant solicitor to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors. In answer the defendant made assertions about the claimant’s mental health, and she now sought to bring action iin defamation on those . .
CitedTaylor 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 . .
CitedStanton and Another v Callaghan and Others CA 8-Jul-1998
The defendant, a structural engineer, was retained by the plaintiffs in a claim against insurers for the costs of remedying subsidence of the plaintiffs’ house. He advised total underpinning for pounds 77,000, but later while preparing a joint . .
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 . .
CitedGeneral Medical Council v Professor Sir Roy Meadow, Attorney General CA 26-Oct-2006
The GMC appealed against the dismissal of its proceedings for professional misconduct against the respondent doctor, whose expert evidence to a criminal court was the subject of complaint. The doctor said that the evidence given by him was . .
CitedMartin 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 . .
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 . .
CitedSurzur Overseas Ltd v Koros and others CA 25-Feb-1999
A defendant to a worldwide Mareva injunction had failed to give full disclosure of all his assets in an affidavit filed with the court. False evidence as to sale of the assets in question was later manufactured and placed before the court. The . .
MentionedThe 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 . .
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 . .
CitedSamuels v Coole and Haddock (a Firm) CA 22-May-1997
The defendant solicitors had acted for defendants in an action brought by the plaintiff. They swore and filed an affidavit in support of an application to strike out elements of the action. The affidavit spoke as to abusive and threatening calls and . .
CitedCrawford Adjusters and Others v Sagicor General Insurance (Cayman) Ltd and Another PC 13-Jun-2013
(Cayman Islands) A hurricane had damaged property insured by the respondent company. The company employed the appellant as loss adjustor, but came to suspect advance payments recommended by him, and eventually claimed damages for deceit and . .
CitedSingh v Moorlands Primary School and Another CA 25-Jul-2013
The claimant was a non-white head teacher, alleging that her school governors and local authority had undermined and had ‘deliberately endorsed a targeted campaign of discrimination, bullying, harassment and victimisation’ against her as an Asian . .
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 . .
CitedWillers v Joyce and Another (Re: Gubay (Deceased) No 1) SC 20-Jul-2016
Parties had been involved in an action for wrongful trading. This was not persisted with but the claimant sought damages saying that the action was only part of a campaign to do him harm. This appeal raised the question whether the tort of malicious . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Police, Torts – Other

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.184703