This week I found myself in the unusual position of agreeing with a representative of the police’s union, the Police Federation. They represent the interests of police constables, sergeants, and inspectors up to, and including, the rank of Chief Inspector.
As a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police, I represent people who have been victims of misconduct at the hands of Police Federation members. As a result, we often find ourselves on opposite sides of debates about policing in the UK.
But this week I found myself agreeing with the West Midlands Police Federation representative quoted in a BBC report. It described how a police officer won more than £12,000 in compensation after being bitten by fleas at work. The Force justified the five-figure award by saying:
“Compensation payouts are only made following the assessment of appropriate medical evidence by insurers and solicitors who then make a recommendation to the force as to what the pay-out should be.”
Police Federation Defence
Defending the officer’s claim, Tom Cuddeford of West Midlands Police Federation said that compensation awards
“aren’t flippantly made”.
I couldn’t agree more, but some senior police officers do not hold our views.
Listen to Norfolk’s (former) Chief Constable Phil Gormley complain about the “corrosive compensation culture” when one of his own officers claimed compensation for her accident at work. He argued that “it generates a something for nothing attitude”.
So, who is right? The Former Chief Constable who argued that there is a “compensation culture” fuelling claims, or the Police Federation (and me)?
To answer that question, think about what’s involved in bringing a compensation claim against the police, by either a victim of police misconduct or a police officer injured at work:
- The claimant must have a valid, actionable claim in law. Grounds for compensation claims vary depending on the circumstances. For example, the law in civil actions against the police is complex. Police are well-protected so they can (generally) go about the business of fighting crime without fear of being sued. These limits on actions against the police mean that invalid claims do not get off the ground. Similarly, solicitors who represent police officers in accident at work claims may have to consider various laws, including statute, common law, employment law, and contract law to find out if the injured police officer can claim compensation. Neither is easy.
- Claims are strictly vetted by claimant solicitors like me before being submitted. As officers of the Supreme Court, we must act in the best interests of both our clients and the court. We filter unmeritorious claims to fulfil that duty. (It does no one any good to present hopeless claims at court.) We do this at no cost to the police or their insurers. This means that only the strongest cases go forward.
- Claimants know they in for a hard fight, especially when suing the police, who are agents of the State. Compensation claims against the police are (usually) aggressively fought by police forces, who have deep pockets and massive resources, which are only matched by their determination to protect their reputations. Insurers take a similarly hard-line approach when dealing with police officers’ accident at work claims. Payouts can be huge, especially if early retirement and pension rights are part of the claim. Insurers, like police forces, are not in the business of giving away money easily.
- This means that only the best claims make it through the contested litigation process. Only genuine victims of police misconduct and accidents at work win compensation. And the compensation they receive is not a windfall. It is intended to put them in the position as if the police misconduct or work accident did not happen. No more, no less.
As I wrote here, the police use the (non-existent) “compensation culture” argument to deflect attention from their own misconduct and mismanagement. It’s about time that senior officers agreed with their Police Federation colleagues and recognised that claiming compensation is a legal right and that money is only paid in genuine claims. Claims against the police
- are not part of a “corrosive compensation culture”, they
- “aren’t flippantly made”, and they are clearly not
- “something for nothing”.
Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.