By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors
As a solicitor who specialises in helping people claim against the police, I spend a lot of my time dealing with the various police forces in England and Wales.
I am sorry to say that I could use some of my time more productively if those same forces and their solicitors behaved differently.
It is common practice for the police and their solicitors to:
- delay progress on cases;
- misplace, edit, or redact evidence which may help prove the claim against the police; and
- fight losing cases or make ‘low-ball’ offers.
- cause unnecessary hardship to innocent victims of police misconduct;
- increase legal costs (which have to be paid by the taxpayer); and
- only serve to damage the reputation of the police in the eyes of the judge and jury who eventually get to hear the claim against the police.
So, with these things in mind, here are three New Year’s resolutions for the police forces and their solicitors:
1.Think of the police force’s money as your own
I am constantly frustrated by how police forces and their solicitors behave as if money is no object.
In my experience, filing unnecessary applications at court and fighting claims to trial is their preferred approach.
Even in a straightforward claim against the police, the solicitors representing the police forces behave as if they have winnable cases when they know that experienced solicitors like me who deal with no win no fee police claims would not take poor cases.
For example, in the case of Mr. M (read the case report here), the Chief Constable and his solicitors fought this claim against the police until the eve of the trial even though a complaint against the police force had been upheld by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
By doing so, they wasted valuable funds which could have more properly been spent fighting crime.
2. Treat people making a claim against the police as you would want to be treated
I often come across cases of police misconduct which could have been avoided.
Some clients tell me that they are only making a claim against the police because they feel mistreated, and that they would not be suing the police if the police officers had been more civil with them.
Again, referring to Mr. M, he was (unlawfully) arrested and processed at a police station. The police took £325 from his wallet and returned the empty wallet to him when he was released.
He went to the station to demand his money. A police officer threw the money at him over the desk and asked ‘can’t you take a joke?’.
Mr. M was rightly outraged at the police officers’ conduct, complained, claimed against the police, and won compensation.
But the conduct of the officers involved was made worse by the actions of the police force and its solicitors. They denied liability throughout and refused to make any offers to settle his claim, adding to the stress he already felt about the police’s misconduct and having to claim against the police.
Although Mr. M did not have to suffer through a trial, the fact that the police force and its solicitors settled the claim the day before, when no new evidence had been produced, shows that they could have dealt with it earlier and saved him a lot of unnecessary stress.
I wonder how the police force’s solicitors would have felt if they, or one of their families, were treated like this?
3. Respect your opponent in the claim against the police
It is not easy to be a solicitor who specialises in helping people claim against the police. You can only become one after years of training, both at law school and ‘on the job’. It is hard work that has to be a passion. This type of work does not pay as well as others.
There are no ‘fat cats’ here.
Recent Government policy has made it harder for solicitors who help people claim against the police. (I blogged here about last year’s changes to the funding of personal injury claims, which often include police claims.)
So only specialist solicitors who see a good claim against the police at an early stage can continue to practice in this area of law.
As a result, only the best claims against the police are pursued by expert solicitors.
Police forces and their solicitors know this but I still see examples of their poor conduct more worthy of a 17-year-old insurance clerk than an experienced solicitor.
For example, my clients H and A (read the case report here) were assaulted in their home as a result of a botched search warrant raid.
Not unsurprisingly, the police force’s solicitors denied liability, claiming that the officers acted lawfully.
They also claimed that neither client was injured (despite seeing photographs as proof) but made a ‘without prejudice’ offer to settle of £4,000 which was to be shared between H and A.
As an experienced solicitor who helps people claim against the police on a daily basis, I was confident that the offer was insulting to my clients and that they were telling the truth about their injuries.
I obtained medical evidence, issued proceedings, and eventually settled their claims for £18,000, four times more than the original offer to H, and five times more than the original offer to A.
The police also had to pay full legal costs, which were considerably higher as I had no choice but to issue proceedings due to their denial of liability and ridiculous low offer.
The police force involved and their solicitors clearly thought they could get away with this, and they may have succeeded if they were dealing with someone who does not deal with claims against the police every day. Respecting me, their opponent, would have saved the police a lot of money and time.
New Year’s Resolution for Police Force Solicitors
I urge any police forces and their solicitors who read my blog to make a New Year’s resolution to learn from these examples.
My clients are innocent victims of police misconduct. By the time they come to me for help with their claim against the police they have suffered enough.
Don’t make it worse for them by dragging cases out unnecessarily and making no offers, or insulting ones.
How you would feel if you were the person making the claim against the police?
Wouldn’t you like to restore some goodwill by treating them with respect?
If thinking about the innocent victim doesn’t get you to change, what about the wasted money that could be spent fighting crime?
Whatever the reason, make 2014 the year you change the way you deal with claims against the police.
Kevin Donoghue is the Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, a specialist law firm dedicated to helping innocent people claim against the police.
Contact him on 0151 933 1474 or via his firm’s website https://www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk/actions-against-the-police/.