Time Limits in Actions Against the Police

Thinking about bringing an actions against the police claim? If so, read this page about the time limits that apply to these claims to see if you are entitled to do so.

To claim compensation contact Donoghue Solicitors on 08000 124 246 or complete the online form on this page.

Limitation Periods

The courts in England and Wales apply strict time limits, known as “limitation periods” to civil claims, including actions against the police claims. The rules mean that, unless exceptions apply, if you do not issue court proceedings in time you lose the right to claim compensation.

How Long Do I Have to Sue the Police?

If you have an actions against the police claim, you must issue court proceedings within the following time limits:

  • personal injury (police assault/ battery)- 3 years from date of injury
  • unlawful (a.k.a. wrongful) arrest/ false imprisonment– 6 years from date of detention
  • negligence not causing personal injury- 6 years from date of damage
  • negligence causing personal injury/ death- 3 years from date of injury/ death
  • death in custody- 6 years from date of death, unless negligence causing personal injury alleged
  • malicious prosecution- 6 years from date of favourable outcome (e.g. acquittal at criminal court prosecution)
  • misfeasance in public office- 6 years from date damage ended
  • trespass to property or goods- 6 years from event
  • negligence by the police- 6 years from date of damage, unless the negligence caused personal injury/ death, in which case the limitation date is 3 years
  • breach of the Human Rights Act– 1 year less 1 day from date of causative breach
  • discrimination under the Equality Act– 6 months less 1 day from date of act or omission (or final act/ omission if conduct extended over a period of time)
  • unlawful stop and search- within 6 years of event
  • breach of Data Protection Act – 6 years from breach
  • breach of Protection from Harassment Act– 6 years from course of conduct

As you can see, there are many limitation time limits which apply to actions against the police. They vary depending on what happened and the “heads of claim” we raise on your behalf. (Read our page on the law in civil actions against the police for more about heads of claim.)

The main thing to note is that limitation periods in actions against the police claims can be as short as under 6 months.

Because of this, it is important that you contact us as soon as possible to protect your whole claim and give yourself the best chance of winning.

A 5 star review for Donoghue Solicitors actions against the police lawyers.How the Time Limits Help

The time limits help get cases litigated promptly and correctly. They make sure Claimants presents cases in good time so that they can be disposed of, preferably in the Claimants’ favour, helping them to move on from (often traumatic and life-changing) events. They also allow police forces to properly defend claims, and give the courts the best chance of deciding cases fairly.

Even though some of the limitation periods seem long (3 or 6 years), it is best to act quickly to make sure that:

  • vital evidence can be preserved, including CCTV and other documentation
  • statements from you and any witnesses can be taken before memories fade
  • all available evidence can be considered and the merits of your case analysed
  • funding can be dealt with
  • formal complaints are pursued, involving the Independent Office for Police Conduct (“IOPC”) where appropriate
  • proceedings are issued before the limitation date time limits expire to ensure no part of your claim is lost.

Contact us now to protect your claim on 08000 124 246 or complete the online form on this page.

Exceptions to the Limitation Periods in Police Claims

In most cases limitation time limits are strictly enforced. But what if you are too late? Can you still claim? The answer, as so often with the law, is: it depends.

On rare occasions courts will agree to delay the start of, or extend, the limitation date and allow your claim to continue.

The rules differ for claims made under “common law” such as police assault, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution, and cases brought under legislation (like the Data Protection Act, Equality Act, and Human Rights Act). (“Common law” is the law based in custom and judge-made law in court, rather than legislation, which comes from Parliament.) If your claim involves common law it will be dealt with under the Limitation Act 1980. This law delays the start of the limitation period if:

  1. The Claimant is under 18 when the facts which gave rise to the claim (known as the “cause of action”) occurred
  2. The Claimant is a “protected party” when the cause of action arises (a “protected party” is a person who may not be able to pursue litigation because of an “impairment of, or a disturbance in the functioning of his/her mind or brain”)
  3. The Defendant police force deliberately concealed a fact or facts relating to the cause of action.

In 1. the Claimant has until their 21st or 24th birthday to issue proceedings (depending on which limitation period applies, 3 years or 6 years).

In 2. the start of the limitation period is delayed for protected parties for as long as they lack the capacity to conduct legal proceedings.

In 3, s.32(1) of the Limitation Act 1980 delays the start date where “any fact relevant to the Claimant’s right of action has been deliberately concealed from him by the Defendant”. The deliberate hiding of facts must relate to the right of action, and not just something which supports an existing case. The limitation date starts from when the Claimant found out about the police’s actions, or could have done, with “reasonable diligence”.

There is also a special rule for negligence claims causing personal injury. In actions against the police this applies to police assault and death (usually in custody) cases. In these cases, the limitation period starts from the date of injury/ death or, if later, when the Claimant (or Personal Representative in death cases) knew that:

  • the injury was significant enough to justify proceedings
  • it was caused (in whole or in part) by the Defendant police force’s act or omission, and
  • the identity of the Defendant or the person responsible (if different).

Extending the Limitation Period

Even if the exceptions above don’t apply, the 3-year time limit for personal injury (e.g. police assault) cases, can be extended with the court’s permission. (The 6-year time limit can’t be extended.) Under s.33(3) of the Limitation Act the law applies the principles of equity, stating:

(3) In acting under this section the court shall have regard to all the circumstances of the case and in particular to—

(a) the length of, and the reasons for, the delay on the part of the plaintiff;

(b) the extent to which, having regard to the delay, the evidence adduced or likely to be adduced by the plaintiff or the defendant is or is likely to be less cogent than if the action had been brought within the time allowed by section 11 or (as the case may be) by section 12;

(c) the conduct of the defendant after the cause of action arose, including the extent (if any) to which he responded to requests reasonably made by the plaintiff for information or inspection for the purpose of ascertaining facts which were or might be relevant to the plaintiff’s cause of action against the defendant;

(d) the duration of any disability of the plaintiff arising after the date of the accrual of the cause of action;

(e) the extent to which the plaintiff acted promptly and reasonably once he knew whether or not the act or omission of the defendant, to which the injury was attributable, might be capable at that time of giving rise to an action for damages;

(f) the steps, if any, taken by the plaintiff to obtain medical, legal or other expert advice and the nature of any such advice he may have received.

As you can see, this is a very detailed examination of the situation. Persuading the Court to grant “equitable relief” is no mean feat. Defendant police forces usually emphasize the prejudice they would suffer if the Court allowed the Claimant’s case to continue out of time (see s.33(3)(b) above). If they convince the court that the delay since the limitation date expired harms their ability to fairly defend the claim then the Court may refuse the Claimant’s application, effectively ending the case.

In Human Rights Act and Equality Act cases the time limits are set by the legislation. These laws mean that the same strict time limits apply to everyone, even children, protected parties, and people who have had facts deliberately hidden from them by the police.

But both laws allow for the limitation period to be extended where “the court or tribunal considers (it) equitable having regard to all the circumstances”. (s.7(5) Human Rights Act 1988) In practice, the courts consider the s.33 Limitation Act grounds shown above.

Lastly, if the legislation does not include its own time limits the courts apply the Limitation Act rules. In actions against the police this applies to claims brought under the Data Protection Act 2018 and Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, Director of Donoghue Solicitors and expert in limitation time limits in actions against the police.

Kevin Donoghue, Director of Donoghue Solicitors and expert in limitation time limits in actions against the police.

Time Limits for Complaints Against the Police

Complaints against the police are mostly dealt with by the police force concerned through local resolution or local investigation. In more serious cases the Independent Office for Police Conduct get involved, either from the beginning, or after an appeal.

Either way, there is no strict time limit for making a complaint. But both the police and the IPCC can refuse to consider complaints for matters over 12 months old without a good explanation for the delay.

For more information about making complaints against the police click on the link.

How to Get Help from Actions Against the Police Solicitors

If you’ve read this far you’ll know that the law on time limits for actions against the police can be complicated, so it makes sense to instruct expert solicitors like Kevin Donoghue and his team to handle your claim. (Read why we suggest you instruct Donoghue Solicitors here.)

The important thing to remember is to bring your claim as soon as possible. You’ll give yourself the best chance of winning (e.g by preserving crucial evidence such as CCTV and bodycam footage) and avoid any potential limitation issues.

But even if you miss one of the early limitation periods we might still be able to help you claim for other things. (E.g. if you contact us a year after the incident you might miss out on an Equality Act or Human Rights claim but still be eligible to claim compensation for police assault, false imprisonment, trespass etc.) Speak to our expert lawyers to find out if we can still help.

To start your actions against the police claim call 08000 124 246 or complete the online form on this page. Our website uses 256-bit secure encryption so you can be sure that your information will be safe and dealt with in the strictest confidence.

We look forward to helping you with your actions against the police claim.

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