The Art of War in Actions Against the Police


Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who explains how the Art of War applies to civil actions against the police

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, explains how the concepts in The Art of War, a 2,500-year-old book, still apply today.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

In the 5th century BC, Sun Tzu, the Chinese military general and strategist, wrote The Art of War. The book has influenced military leaders ever since. Some credit its concepts with the unification of Japan, helping Ho Chi Minh’s forces defeat America in the Vietnam war, and the US success in the First Gulf War.

The Art of War’s thirteen chapters address many aspects of warfare, including “laying plans”, “waging war”, “use of energy”, and “variation of tactics”. It combines pithy statements with practical information which is still relevant today.

As a result, its impact extends beyond the battlefield. It has also influenced politicians, those in business, and even lawyers. For solicitors involved in civil actions against the police, it is easy to see why.

“A Matter of Life and Death”

Sun Tzu said that the art of war “is a matter of life and death”. Bill Shankly, the Liverpool FC manager, must have been inspired by Sun when he said:

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”

Many of my clients would agree that their civil actions against the police are vitally important to them. Taking on the State is not for the faint-hearted. But they feel that they have no alternative, especially if they want lessons to be learned. As one client said:

Ged mcdermott

An issue which started in 2015, had a massive impact on me and my family, thanks to Kevin has now come to an end and I finally feel that i have been listened to and taken seriously. The importance of engaging a solicitor of Kevin’s experience cannot be underestimated. The genuine care and attention he showed throughout will always be appreciated . It is hoped that GMP and the NCA have genuinely learned from our experience and nobody else suffers in the same manner and that they investigate crime more competently and in doing so protect the vulnerable in the community. Massive thank you Kevin for your help, patience and understanding

“All warfare is based on deception”

Contrary to the image of Lady Justice, the scales she holds are unbalanced in actions against the police. The police have more money, power, and influence than ordinary members of the public. But, with that power comes complacency. Especially when dealing with claimant lawyers.

At first glance, Donoghue Solicitors may not appear to be formidable opponents. My firm is small. We are based in Liverpool, not London. We do not have expensive offices.

But this is all by design.

My dedicated, highly-trained team choose to work here because they get to work closely with clients and take great satisfaction in helping them achieve justice.

We have an “all hands on deck” attitude which means we all learn from each other and put our experiences into practice quickly. This nimble, quick-thinking approach, means we catch our opponents off-guard.

We have recruited the brightest and best from bigger firms because our methods and culture attract talent. The police underestimate us at their peril, as this client noted.

Jody Martin

Kevin legally outsmarted all of the Defence lawyers arguments to the point where they conceded the case 12 months later.

And our location is an advantage. Liverpool is our home. We know it, and our North West police forces, well. But Donoghue Solicitors also represents clients throughout England and Wales by relying on cutting-edge technology. One of the helpful effects of the pandemic is that this is even easier now. Everyone, including judges, barristers, and clients, communicates remotely.

Photo of a terracota army general from the Qin Dynasty.

Terracota army general from the Qin Dynasty.

“The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach.”

Successful civil actions against the police are a team effort. Clients, solicitors, barristers, experts, and others must all work together towards a common goal. We must be fearless in our representation, and formidable in our approach.

I set high standards and expect everyone, including my clients, to match them, as this client found:

dee chatterley

Excellent service, professional yet human and fought my case with such tenacity the like of which I have never seen.

“The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness”.

Solicitors are bound by strict Standards and Regulations of professional conduct. But there is more to running a law firm and bringing civil actions against the police than just following the rules. As this review shows, society benefits when solicitors lead by example:

altho sutt

I sincerely think Kevin is one of the most honourable solicitors that l have met;  the firm show commendable professionalism and honesty to those they represent – often people in vulnerable and frightening positions. Kevin Donoghue and his team have helped me put a negative and horrible experience behind me. I can now positively move on with my life after many years of worrying, fear and anxiousness; a two year wait from the Independent Police Complaints, which resulted in my complaint not being upheld. I cannot thank Kevin Donoghue and his team enough for fighting my case and putting my trust back in the UK legal system. The legal system can work, and does work with the continued hard ethical work of solicitors such a Kevin Donoghue and his team.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

A key part of knowing your opponent and yourself is recognising both sides’ strengths and weaknesses. This only comes with experience. Knowing your clients, opponent police forces, local courts, judges, and even the leanings of potential jurors, can be crucial to the success or failure of legal actions.

Civil actions against the police are a unique, discrete part of civil law. I have worked in this area for over twenty years. This experience means that I take cases other solicitors avoid. These often involve high-level police corruption where reputations of senior officers are at stake. I have found that such cases can occur repeatedly in local areas, suggesting systemic issues. For example, I have had considerable success in police corruption cases against:

  • South Wales Police
  • Merseyside Police
  • Greater Manchester Police
  • the Metropolitan Police
  • other police forces throughout England and Wales.

“A power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of victory, and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers and distances, constitutes the test of a great general. He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles.”

I have personally sued most of our police forces. They all differ in their approaches. Some deny liability in every case, others take a more considered approach. Many forces farm out the work of dealing with civil actions against the police to defendant law firms. Others deal with them “in house” or share resources across a number of police forces. Knowing these things, and the people who deal with claims, means I am able to tailor my approach to help my clients achieve justice.

This knowledge means that I am frequently approached by other lawyers to represent their clients. The smart ones know that actions against the police are best left to the experts.

Despite this, I routinely see cases handled by other lawyers who fundamentally misunderstand the law in this area. Their clients’ cases are doomed to fail as a result.

For example, I took over a “dead in the water” claim pursued by a large personal injury law firm. The client’s former lawyers thought it was a basic personal injury claim. They were wrong. In fact, it involved a claim for false imprisonment. With my help, my client revived his claim and received £13,000 compensation plus legal costs.

“We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides.”

One part of building a winning team is the use of local experts. Courts operate in different ways. Judges can be pro-claimant or pro-defendant. Knowing this, I recruit barristers with local expertise where possible. For example, I have worked closely with David Hughes of 30 Park Place chambers in Cardiff. With his help, “Andrea Johnson” was awarded £70,000 compensation from South Wales Police and my client Jamie Clark won his hard-fought compensation claim against Dyfed-Powys Police.

Photo of a terracota army standing archer from the Qin Dynasty.

A terracota army standing archer.

“Let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.”

It is essential that the police know claimants are serious about their cases. Issuing formal court proceedings is a significant and costly step. It should only be done as a last resort. Defendant police force lawyers can tell when inexperienced lawyers issue proceedings without the courage to take the case to trial.

The police know that, when we issue proceedings, we will take them to court if necessary. We know our clients and their cases. We are confident that they will win.

This attitude means that we negotiate from a position of strength, and only when it is in our clients’ best interests. One of those considerations is settling claims before trial. This can be attractive because it avoids uncertainty and helps our clients get the justice they deserve. As this client found:


Kevin was able to put forward such a strong argument in favour of our case that the Police felt compelled to settle prior to court by paying us compensation of £30,000 as well as covering our legal costs. I would have no hesitation in recommending Kevin and his team.

We are always cautious of any off-the-record settlement proposals though, because, as Sun Tzu said:

Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot.

“The art of war is of vital importance to the State.”

Civil actions against the police are not “war”. But they are serious undertakings which deserve proper consideration by all involved. In that regard, the teachings in Sun Tzu’s book are as relevant now as they were 2,500 years ago.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.