Why We All Benefit When People Bring Claims Against the Police

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who explains why we all benefit when people bring claims against the police.
Here Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, explains why we all benefit when people bring claims against the police.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

I recently wrote about why people bring claims against the police. Compensation is less important for many victims of police misconduct, especially when compared to:

  • restoring their reputations
  • correcting inaccurate police records/ destruction of DNA etc. which could impact on future job prospects/ parental access rights etc.
  • holding the police accountable for their actions
  • seeing that lessons are learned so that others don’t have to suffer similarly.

Effects When People Bring Claims Against the Police

So, bringing claims against the police helps claimants in many ways. But there’s more to it than that. It is not enough that victims seek and recover remedies and compensation for police misconduct, and that the police take steps to prevent a recurrence. For society to have confidence in the Rule of Law we must see that justice is done. By publicly bringing claims against the police, claimants:

  • fulfil a valuable civic duty by showing society that our constitutional rights can, and should, be upheld
  • remind police who abuse their positions of power that no one is above the law, especially those tasked with upholding it
  • contribute to changes to existing police policies, and to the development of new practices, which can help reduce police misconduct in future
  • help develop new law, which further protects our fundamental human rights.

In some cases, this is done by victims of police misconduct publicising their cases after they finish. For example:

1. Nigel Lang was wrongfully arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. He lost his job working with vulnerable young people, and suffered serious psychological effects.

With my help Nigel Lang received £60,000 compensation and made sure the police corrected his record.  Hertfordshire Police, the force which arranged for Nigel Lang’s arrest after incorrectly providing his IP address, apologised and confirmed it changed its procedures to prevent a repeat of his ordeal. All this has helped him start to rebuild his life.

TV appearance

But even though it was hard, Nigel recognised the importance of telling the public about what had happened for the reasons above. I arranged for him to speak with journalists from Buzzfeed News. Later he appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme before a nationwide television audience. By doing so he raised public awareness of the devastating effects of what the police pithily described as an “administrative error”.

 

2. Paul Smith was late for work and frustrated at the delay in being issued a parking ticket. When things escalated he was wrongfully arrested, assaulted, “pepper” sprayed, and put in a spit hood in full view of the public in his home town of Hastings. Paul’s painful and humiliating experience was made worse because he felt that his family, friends, and neighbours thought he was somehow responsible. The £25,000 compensation he received helped prove his innocence to them and restore his reputation.

Spit Hood Dangers

Like Nigel Lang, Paul wanted the public to know what happened and to understand the horrendous experience of being spit-hooded. He kindly agreed to me using his details when discussing his case in radio interviews and online. I referred to Paul’s case to explain what happens when the police spray victims with PAVA “pepper spray” before applying spit hoods. Among other things:

  • the spray causes a reflexive clearing of the airways which can (wrongly) be interpreted as spitting at an officer, and
  • hooding people who have been sprayed increases the risk of suffocation, causing serious injury or, in the worst cases, death.

Bringing attention to these risks ought to raise public and police awareness about these potentially deadly tools.

Public Vindication in Civil Courts

In other cases, bringing claims against the police also extends to publicising misconduct in courtrooms where the public, journalists, and others can see justice being done. For example:

1. I represented James Parry, a prominent solicitor based in Merseyside. He was wrongfully arrested after agreeing to attend a local police station for a voluntary interview with a police officer investigating an alleged theft. The arrest smeared Mr Parry’s professional reputation as it called into question his honesty. It was worse because he is a criminal solicitor who often represents clients at Merseyside’s police stations.

The police refused to accept wrongdoing so we took James’s case to trial in Liverpool County Court, where he won £9,000 compensation for his false imprisonment claim. Pubic vindication by a judge in court was of vital importance to my client as a solicitor who appears in Liverpool’s courts daily. His story was also reported in the Liverpool Echo and the Law Society Gazette, the trade magazine for the legal profession, helping further public knowledge and (hopefully) change the police’s procedures with respect to voluntary interviews.

Police Confusion

Merseyside Police issued a statement in response to the press reports saying:

‘The force carefully considered this civil action and it was thoroughly examined by our legal department who also sought external legal advice. As a result, it was decided that it was appropriate to defend the claim and test the facts in court.’

(my emphasis)

This is an apparent misunderstanding of the law because it wrongly suggests that the burden of proof is on the claimant in false imprisonment claims. I wrote a blog post to clear up any confusion on the part of the police. I hope Merseyside Police read it and apply the well-established principles to save others from Mr Parry’s experience.

2. Another of my clients recently won her case at Cardiff County Court after being wrongfully convicted of assaulting a police officer. My client, who worked part-time as an SIA-accredited steward, was driving home when the police pulled her over. Things got out of hand and the officers assaulted and arrested her. To her horror, the officers falsely claimed that my client had assaulted one of them in the execution of his duty. The police prosecuted, and convicted, her at the Magistrates’ Court on the basis of the officers’ false evidence. She appealed to the Crown Court, where the court found no case to answer and quashed her conviction.

Civil Court Judgment

But that did not go far enough to restore her reputation, clear her record, and hold the police to account for their appalling misconduct. I took her case to trial where the Judge made a public finding against the police. He said,

“In my judgment the arrest and prosecution of the Claimant was the result of a face-saving exercise by the police officers involved, who had allowed a trivial event to become an incident in which an innocent member of the public had been assaulted and injured by them”.

This finding was essential to my client personally and in her work as she could now correct her police record. The court also awarded my client more than £70,000 compensation, a large amount which reflected the serious nature of the police misconduct. The judgment was also important for the public, as it showed that the police can be held to account.

Justice Done

Understandably, some people can be in two minds about whether to bring claims against the police. Proceedings can be stressful, hard-fought, and take a long time. Challenging the misconduct of “our brave boys in blue” may be unpalatable, especially for people who have never been in trouble with the police before. But we should all recognise the bravery of victims of police abuse, because, as Lord Chief Justice Hewart said in R v Sussex Justices ex p McCarthy (1924):

“[It] is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who helps people bring civil actions against the police.

Why I Agree with the Police Federation About Compensation Claims

Photo of Kevin Donoghue solicitor, who considers the Police Federation position on compensation claims in this blog post.
Solicitor Kevin Donoghue explains why he agrees with the Police Federation about compensation claims.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

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.

In the past, we have clashed when discussing spit hoods, tasers, and post-incident investigations, among other things.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

This is Why People Sue the Police

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, discusses why people sue the police in this blog post.
Solicitor Kevin Donoghue discusses why people sue the police.

When people sue the police are they only after money? Here Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, looks at their motivations, how the system forces some to claim compensation, and the impact of the so-called “compensation culture”.

Let’s get one thing straight. The “compensation culture” is bogus. It’s a vampire myth that refuses to die even though government ministers, senior judges, and others have found no evidence of it. And yet, the myth persists, promoted by insurers, attention-hogging politicians, and senior police officers including Phil Gormley, Chief Constable of Norfolk Police (as he was then).

Why?

Those who promote the compensation culture story have something to gain, be it money, political power, or some other benefit. In the case of the police, shaming innocent victims to stop them claiming compensation means more money for police budgets. And as I explain here, blaming the compensation culture helps the police avoid scrutiny as it deflects attention from their own management failings and misconduct.

Why People Sue the Police

But even if the compensation culture existed, money is rarely the main reason people sue the police. This is because civil claims are about more than compensation. They are also about justice, accountability, and vindication:

  1. For society to have confidence in the Rule of Law and the police’s role in it we need to see justice done when they act improperly. Innocent victims of police misconduct help by bringing civil claims to hold the police accountable for their actions. We all benefit as a result.
  2. Victims also deserve public acknowledgement of the wrongs they suffered. This can have a healing effect, helping them rebuild their lives after (often) appalling treatment by the police.
  3. Righting these wrongs often includes correcting personal data such as records of arrest, DNA samples, and fingerprints. (For example, read how we helped Nigel Lang clear his name after his wrongful arrest on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children.)
  4. Most of my clients tell me that these things matter more than compensation, but recognise that compensation is an essential part of civil claims against the police. This is especially so in cases where the police stubbornly refuse to apologise. Compensation is the next best thing as victims know it will lead to questions being asked within the responsible Force. Sometimes this leads to changes in police policy. My clients are often very interested in this, as they don’t want anyone else to suffer like they did.

Fight for Justice

Civil claims against the police also fill a gap in our legal system. They help victims of police misconduct seek justice where the criminal justice system and police’s own internal disciplinary processes fail.

I represent a teenage girl who alleges that she was sexually assaulted by a (then) serving police officer. My client immediately lodged a complaint against the police.  With her help, the police prepared a case for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to bring criminal proceedings against the officer.

The burden of proof in criminal cases is beyond reasonable doubt. The CPS felt that the case was strong enough to seek a conviction.  My client gave evidence in court at a jury trial despite her genuine upset about being in the same room as her alleged attacker.

After hearing all the evidence, the jury could not agree that the CPS had met the high burden of proof. It was “hung” and the judge declared a mistrial.

The CPS insisted on a re-trial. My client gave evidence again, repeating her earlier harrowing experience. This time the jury acquitted the police officer, and he left court a free man.

My client was deeply upset. She took the verdict as meaning that the jury believed the police officer and thought that she was a liar.

Police Complaint

Determined to fight for justice, my client pressed the police to investigate her complaint thoroughly.

The police officer’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) investigated. Among other things, my client’s allegations raised a breach of the Police Code of Ethics which could result in misconduct proceedings. The Code states that police officers and staff must

not establish or pursue an improper sexual or emotional relationship with a person with whom you come into contact in the course of your work who may be vulnerable to an abuse of trust or power.

On her version of events, the PSD should have referred  the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission as it involved “serious corruption” and a “serious sexual offence”. But, for reasons unclear, the PSD’s investigating officers chose to deal with my client’s complaint “in house”. (This is not unusual. Read more about how the police wrongly handle police sexual exploitation complaints here.)

The burden of proof in police misconduct matters is the civil standard of “the preponderance of evidence”. This is lower than the criminal “beyond reasonable doubt” standard which the officer faced in his 2 jury trials. For a finding of misconduct, the PSD need show only that is was more probable than not that the misconduct occurred as alleged.

My client was confident that this would happen and that the officer would be severely sanctioned, and probably dismissed, for gross misconduct. After all, the CPS felt confident enough in the case to fight it to trial twice. Surely the police officer’s misconduct hearing would find that the case met the lower civil standard?

Resignation

Sadly, we will never know. The police officer resigned following his acquittal in the criminal trial. Misconduct proceedings, where the most serious penalty is dismissal, were ended.

This means that the police officer involved has no stain on his record. He is free to seek employment elsewhere, including occupations which may bring him into contact with vulnerable young people again.

Worryingly, he is not alone. In 2016 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the police’s overseer, reported that:

Since December 2013, police forces have been providing the college [of policing] with details of officers who have been dismissed from the service, or who resigned or retired while subject to a gross misconduct investigation in which it had already been determined that there was a case to answer.

Misconduct figures from the register relating to leavers between 1 December 2013 and 30 November 2014 were published in March 2016.39 Sixty-seven (8 percent) of the 833 cases on the register during this time were recorded as relating to police officers leaving the service after having had a relationship with a vulnerable person. Thirty-three of these 67 leavers were dismissed, 30 resigned and 4 retired.

(my emphasis)

Civil Compensation Claim

After all her other options had been exhausted, my client researched solicitors who bring actions against the police. We met and I explained that she could still pursue a civil compensation claim for police abuse of authority for sexual gain. This is despite the police officer’s acquittal in criminal court and his later resignation. On the evidence I have seen, she has a good claim for damages. This is partly because, like in the police officer’s misconduct proceedings, her compensation claim will be considered on the (lower) civil standard of proof.

The system has failed my client so far. In bringing this compensation claim she is seeking justice, vindication, and accountability. She also wants to make sure that the police take her allegations seriously, and put procedures in place to stop someone else suffering what she has been through. Her motives could not be further away from those raised by promoters of the bogus “compensation culture”.

 

Contact Kevin Donoghue for help to sue the police here.

 

A Solicitor’s Review of 2016 and Predictions for 2017

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor who specialises in actions against the police, who reviews 2016 and gives predictions for 2017.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

2016 has been a tumultuous year for the country as a whole, and civil litigation lawyers in particular. But what does 2017 hold? Here I look at three issues which affected us this year and make predictions for how they will play out in 2017.

1.      The proposed increase in the small claims limit

What happened in 2016?

You might think that the immense task of implementing June’s Brexit vote would be enough to keep the government occupied. Sadly not. In November, the Ministry of Justice announced plans to raise the small claims limit for all personal injury claims, and either scrap “whiplash” damages completely, or introduce a cap of £425 for them. As I wrote in February about the small claims limit, at a time of great political upheaval the government’s plan will make it harder for genuine claimants to recover their rightful compensation. It is expected to:

  • cost the country at least £1billion of much-needed revenue
  • deny 85% of injured people legal representation
  • hasten the collapse of the professional legal sector leading to mass unemployment.

Announcing the proposals, the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, seems to have bought into the myth of a “compensation culture”. (I wrote about how wrong this is here.)

Prediction for 2017

As this article in the Law Society Gazette points out, instead of solving the (non-existent) problem of a “rampant compensation culture”, these plans will make it worse. By taking ethical, professional, solicitors out of the personal injury sector claimants will suffer at the hands of unscrupulous claims management companies (CMCs).It seems that the government has simply forgotten about the suffering caused to innocent accident victims by the collapse of Claims Direct and The Accident Group, two high-profile CMCs.

And it is naïve for the government to think that raising the small claims limit will cut spam phone calls and text messages. Solicitors are banned from cold calling; claims management companies are not. CMCs, and those who help them with bulk text-messaging and robocalls, must be thrilled with the proposed changes. Expect more of the same.

The Ministry of Justice gave interested parties, including claimant lawyers, a (deliberately?) short period to respond to its consultation. It announced the proposals on 17 November and expects responses by 6 January 2017. It will confirm what will happen in April 2017. Insurance company lobbying means that they are well placed to get the increase in the small claims limit they crave, leading to even bigger profits because insurers will no longer pay genuine lower value claims. If implemented, it is unclear if any of the proposed changes require secondary legislation. If not, the government will proceed with its plans in 2017/ 2018.

2.      Continued attacks on access to justice

What happened?

The proposed increase in the small claims limit joins previous government policies which limit access to justice. During the Article 50 Brexit hearings, the Lord Chief Justice said, “We have in this country a civilised way of dealing with things, and it is simply wholly wrong for people to be abusive of those who seek to come to the Queen’s courts. If this conduct continues, those who do it must appreciate that the full vigour of the law will be used to ensure that access to Her Majesty’s courts are freely available to everyone.”

In this blog post I noted that these stinging words could also apply to the government.

Prediction

Previous and current government policies, particularly:

  • the proposed raise in the small claims limit,
  • failure to extend Qualified One Way Costs Shifting to all actions against the police claims, and
  • keeping prohibitively high court fees

will make access to justice harder to obtain, especially for innocent victims of police misconduct.

3.      Failing Police Culture

Throughout 2016 I wrote about various issues which I come across in my work as a solicitor dealing with civil claims against the police. Among other things I:

There’s a common theme in these posts: concern at the police’s culture and its attitude to public scrutiny.

a)      Police Complaints Reforms

What happened in 2016?

Prime Minister Theresa May’s disgust at, what she described as the police’s “contempt for the public”, led to the Policing and Crime Bill. The Bill, which is one step away from becoming an Act of Parliament,

would implement many of the proposals in the Government’s Improving Police Integrity consultation. It would reform the system of police complaints in the following ways:

  • A major role for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in the handling of police complaints
  • Changes to the handling of complaints aimed at making the system easier to follow and more transparent
  • Changes to the role and powers of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to reinforce its independence from police forces
  • The introduction of ‘super-complaints’ to allow certain advocacy groups and charities to raise concerns over troubling systemic issues in policing.”

As I pointed out, senior police officers brought these changes upon themselves by deflecting blame and failing to take responsibility.

Prediction

With the Policing and Crime Bill due to become an Act in 2017 the police complaints system will be under increased scrutiny. Its success will depend on the police embracing cultural change from the top down.

b)     Body Worn Cameras

What happened?

A University of Cambridge report found that police body worn cameras had a positive effect on policing. The lead researcher said, “I cannot think of any (other) single intervention in the history of policing that dramatically changed the way that officers behave, the way that suspects behave, and the way they interact with each other.” Chief Inspector Ian Williams of West Yorkshire Police also praised the many benefits of the “excellent” cameras, including increased detection rate, less time at court, and avoiding the need for vulnerable victims to give evidence at court.

Despite this, the system for body worn camera use is flawed and undermines public confidence in three ways:

  1. Instead of using body worn cameras which are constantly recording when on duty, police officers themselves control when the cameras are activated. Also, body worn cameras on the market today have a 2 minute pre-record function, but UK police only use (at best) cameras with a 30 second pre-record period. It is easy to imagine a situation where cameras are used selectively.
  2. Footage is kept for a very short period due to data protection issues. But that law could be used to justify deleting incriminating evidence against the police.
  3. Police officers involved in incidents have the power to edit footage. Editing creates a new, shorter file for use in evidence. But if the original footage is erased, leaving only the selectively edited file, innocent people could be wrongfully convicted.

Prediction

More police officers will wear body worn cameras as the technology and data storage becomes cheaper. The public will expect to see full footage when incidents occur and question its absence and selective editing. To maintain public confidence, the police will need to address these issues and consistently deal with disclosure of footage when matters are “sub judice” (not yet judicially decided).

c)      Spit Hoods

What happened?

Despite some police forces, such as Sussex Police, using spit hoods for years, these “barbaric tools” appeared on the country’s radar after the Metropolitan Police cancelled a trial of their use in police custody suites after a public outcry.

During 2016 I wrote about spit hoods here on our blog, and discussed their use in radio interviews.I:

  • noted that many forces already use, and misuse, the hoods, on children as young as 11.
  • quoted a Freedom of Information Act response which found that none of the spit hoods used by the police have been tested or approved by the government, unlike other forms of equipment such as body worn cameras.
  • described the delicate balancing act between police and public safety, and explained what happened when things went wrong. (In a detailed case study we described how our client Paul Smith (details used with permission) received £25,000 compensation after being wrongfully arrested and spit-hooded.)
  • considered the approach taken by the police officers’ union, the Police Federation. The Federation is keen to see spit hoods issued more extensively, and uses the more neutral term “spit guard” instead of “spit hood”. But that clever bit of PR spin does not hide the fact that people have died after being spit-hooded.

Prediction

The Metropolitan Police is consulting again on the use of spit hoods. After the consultation, it hopes to pilot the use of spit hoods in five custody suites in north-east London. As only 1/3 of police forces presently use spit hoods, the rest will be watching closely to see how the public reacts.

The police were caught on the back foot by the public outcry. I expect they will continue to seek public acceptance of spit hoods (referring to them as “spit guards”) and minimise the risks.

Final Thoughts on 2016 and 2017

2016 will long be remembered for its low points: the rise in hate crimes after the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election, Syria, the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, celebrity deaths, and many other issues. We start 2017 with a blank slate. I urge the government and police to take their responsibilities as leaders seriously, and put the public first.

 

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

 

 

Five Tips to Find the Best Solicitors to Sue the Police

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who has five tips to help you find the best solicitors to sue the police.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, has five tips to help you find the best solicitors to sue the police.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

It can be hard to find the best solicitors to sue the police for you. Let me help with unbiased insider advice only a lawyer who specialises in actions against the police can give.

Unbiased? Really?

As you can tell from our website, we want everyone who might bring an actions against the police claim to be as informed as possible. But we know that giving you this guidance isn’t everything. You still have to deal with a solicitor one-on-one, and after reading these five tips you might decide to use another firm of lawyers. If you do, that’s fine by me because finding the best fit for you and your claim is the most important thing, even if that’s with another solicitor.

Why People Sue the Police

Suing the police is a decision you don’t want to rush because there’s a lot at stake. Depending on the case you might be seeking

  • compensation,
  • an admission of liability,
  • removal of your DNA and personal data,
  • correction of Police National Computer records,
  • satisfaction if your police complaint was ignored, or
  • some other kind of justice.

(Read our page on remedies in claims against the police to find out more.)

This makes “actions against the police” claims (as they are known in legal circles) unique. For that reason, your solicitor should have special skills and qualities.

Five Questions to Find the Best Solicitors to Sue the Police

Kevin Donoghue's five tips to find the best solicitors in actions against the police claimsIn my opinion, there are five things worth thinking about to get the best solicitors to sue the police:

  1. What do you need?

I’ve put this first on purpose. It’s important to find the best solicitors to sue the police for you. Some questions you might want to ask yourself are:

    • How am I going to pay for a solicitor to represent me? Am I eligible for legal aid (sadly, most people aren’t)? If so, do I want to use a legal aid lawyer? If not, does the solicitor offer conditional fee “no win no fee” agreements, or accept clients on a “private client” or before-the-event insurance funded basis?
    • Is it important to me that I use a local solicitor because I need face-to-face meetings during office hours? Or doesn’t the solicitor’s location matter because I am more comfortable with letters, email, phone, occasional skype meetings etc., most of which can be dealt with at other times.
    • Should I use a firm which only represents claimants? Or do I mind a firm which also represents defendant insurers?
    • Would I prefer a “big firm” experience (where I may have numerous lawyers handling my claim under the guidance of a supervising solicitor), or a “small firm” one (where I am more likely to work with an individual solicitor)?
    • Anything else that matters to me.

Tweet This: To find the best solicitor to sue the #police start by asking yourself what you need, says Kevin Donoghue, #solicitor.

2. Are the solicitors you’re researching genuine experts in bringing compensation claims against the police?

Start narrowing your options when you know what you need from your solicitor. Check out the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor service for suggestions. It lists over 150,000 solicitors, and the information held there can help you with your initial search. (For an example, here’s my listing.) You could also ask family, friends, and other lawyers (if you know any), look at your potential solicitors’ websites, social media profiles, read case reports, etc. Find out as much as you can online about their skills before making contact.

This matters because some so-called “experts” in actions against the police are anything but. Funding changes to personal injury law which came into effect on 1 April 2013 have resulted in some lawyers, who previously only dealt with accident claims, branching out into police claims. While there is often an overlap between the two (because claims against the police often include personal injury assault claims), the law in civil actions against the police is extremely complex and different.

You’ll want someone who really knows their stuff or you might risk losing your claim. (Read what happened to a man who initially instructed a personal injury firm to handle his actions against the police claim here.)

  1. Do you think you can you work with the solicitor?

Taking action against the police is not easy. The police are very well funded (by the taxpayer!) and their experienced defence lawyers are determined to protect the reputation of their police force employers and the officers involved. The law and sympathy from the courts is often on the side of the police. Cases can take years and the financial stakes are high.

Bearing this in mind it is important to find a solicitor you can trust and work well with. Your solicitor will assemble a team of lawyers, experts, and other professionals dedicated to helping you win your claim. You will be expected to play your part with helpful co-operation and support.

Ask yourself if you think you will get on with the solicitor, potentially for years. Again, a personal recommendation will help, as will your online research. Read their online reviews, blog (if they have one), and social media posts. If the solicitor has done media work (tv/ radio) see if you can get hold of that. (Read this blog post for more on personality issues. They go both ways.)

  1. What’s their track record?

Even though cases rarely get to court, ideally, you will want a solicitor who has won at least one claim against the police at trial. This shows that they can spot a good case, and have the courage of their convictions to back it all the way. If they haven’t won any cases at trial, consider their overall experience and record of success.

Again, you could research any cases they report on their firm’s websites. I also suggest that you do a “Google” search to see if they come up in media reports, as some actions against the police solicitors’ websites are not kept up-to-date.

  1. Are they members of the Police Action Lawyers Group?

The Police Action Lawyers Group (“PALG”) was set up in 1991 and is a national organisation made up of solicitors, barristers, and other lawyers. This voluntary group shares information and best practices to help lawyers working in this niche area of law. Regular communication ensures that members have access to the latest legal decisions, influence government policy proposals, share knowledge with other organisations (such as Liberty and Justice) etc. This helps PALG members represent your interests as a claimant more effectively.

PALG membership is not essential but, in my opinion, it’s a useful indicator of your potential solicitor’s level of interest and involvement in compensation claims against the police.

(Note: Don’t use the PALG website for research on members. It links only to the government’s legal aid adviser page. PALG members also include lawyers who do not offer legal aid. Read why here.)

More Help to Sue the Police

Armed with these tips and the information on our site, you will be able to

Good luck!

 

Contact me for help with your actions against the police claim on 08000 124 246 or complete the online form on the Donoghue Solicitors website.

 

Why Lawyers Object to the Investigatory Powers Bill

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor, who discusses why lawyers object to the Investigatory Powers bill here.
Kevin Donoghue explains why lawyers object to the Investigatory Powers Bill.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

Today in Parliament MPs are to debate the second reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill. I believe the Bill, as currently drafted, is not fit for purpose and joined with more than 200 other leading lawyers in writing a letter to The Guardian newspaper outlining my objections. This is why.

What is the Investigatory Powers Bill?

The Investigatory Powers Bill is described on the UK Parliament website as:

A Bill to make provision about the interception of communications, equipment interference and the acquisition and retention of communications data, bulk personal datasets and other information; to make provision about the treatment of material held as a result of such interception, equipment interference or acquisition or retention; to establish the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and other Judicial Commissioners and make provision about them and other oversight arrangements; to make further provision about investigatory powers and national security; to amend sections 3 and 5 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994; and for connected purposes.

The Conservative government introduced the Bill in the House of Commons on 1 March 2016. At this first reading stage there is no parliamentary debate about the substance of the Bill. That comes at the second reading stage, today.

After the debate the Speaker calls for objections. If there are none, the Bill proceeds through second reading without a vote. If Members disagree, a vote is taken.

If the Investigatory Powers Bill passes the second reading it progresses to the Committee stage, before proceeding to a third reading.

Why Legal Experts Object to the Investigatory Powers Bill

The Bill, as drafted, fails to meet international standards for surveillance powers.

This is because it:

  1. gives public authorities, such as the police and security agencies like GCHQ (the government’s monitoring agency), generalised (as opposed to targeted) access to the contents of electronic communications such as emails and digital records. Consequently, the Bill’s use of “bulk interception warrants” and “bulk equipment interference warrants” may be illegal.
  2. allows for “targeted interception warrants” to apply to groups of people, organisations, or premises instead of applying to specific individual targets.
  3. does not include a “reasonable suspicion” requirement. This means that surveillance could be used on people, organisations, or premises where no criminal involvement or threat to national security is present.

If the Bill is passed, the effect of these proposals is to allow the police and security agencies unfettered access to our most private communications, including emails, phone calls, medical records, bank statements, etc.

It may also lead to expensive and time-consuming legal challenges and further Parliamentary reform.

Global Perspective

Because our right to privacy in the UK is under threat the UN’s special rapporteur on privacy criticised the UK government in a report to the UN Human Rights Council. He said that the UK has a leading role on the world stage and ought to “desist from setting a bad example to other states by continuing to propose measures, especially bulk interception and bulk hacking” which run counter to recent European court judgments and “undermine the spirit of the very right to privacy”.

I couldn’t agree more. I urge Parliament to carefully consider the implications of this wrong-headed Bill. It must be fundamentally changed at this stage to ensure that any future Act at least meets international standards, and that the UK’s position as a leading democracy is not undermined.

 

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

 

 

 

Can the Police Be Trusted with Body Cameras?

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who asks if the police can be trusted with body cameras.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, asks if the police can be trusted with body cameras.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

A little under a year ago I wrote about the roll-out of police body cameras. (Read the blog here.) In that post I noted that these tools can have a positive effect on policing, reducing both the number of complaints and the use of force. But I cautioned that they should be used in every interaction with the public, and that the police’s current policy of allowing officers to turn the body cameras on and off was bad idea.

For some police officers the presence of body cameras is not enough to change their behaviour. As a result, I am now seeing cases where police misconduct is caught on body cameras, or “body worn cameras” as they are more properly known (BWCs, which produce body worn video, or BWV).

In the ongoing case I describe below, body camera technology helped avoid a serious miscarriage of justice, but in doing so the officers involved may have learned the wrong kind of valuable lessons.

(What follows is a combination of my client’s evidence, the police’s body camera footage, and the officers’ own evidence. As this case is ongoing, names have been withheld for privacy reasons.)

Police Body Cameras Record Arrest

On a fine, sunny day in August 2013, my client Mr A was arrested for these offences:

  • Breach of the Police (a public order offence);
  • obstructing the police in the execution of their duty; and
  • resisting arrest.

He was a man of good character having never had any previous contact with the police.

But on this occasion Mr A had committed a minor traffic infringement. He needed to collect a birthday present from Argos and believing that he would collect it and be back in a few minutes, he parked illegally in the busy town centre near his home.

Unfortunately for Mr A, his car was spotted and when he returned, he came across a female police officer and a male special constable writing out a ticket and carrying out checks on his car.

Realising his mistake Mr A was immediately contrite and apologetic. He tried to explain himself but the officers were having none of it. Feeling ignored, he became upset.

Mr A is an American who, on this occasion, lived up to the stereotype. In explaining himself he came across as loud, enthusiastic, and brash.

Unfortunately his behaviour was misconceived by the female officer as aggressive and she called for backup.

My client was due to attend work. When he realised he was late, he simply asked that the officers issue the ticket and let him go on his way. But bizarrely, the simple issue of the ticket took some time.

In the meantime, in response to the WPC’s emergency “10/20 call”, a vehicle carrying three officers was sent to the scene. While they drove to the scene the female officer confirmed to her colleagues that my client had calmed down and implied that all was well.

Despite this the police car arrived at speed with emergency sirens and lights flashing.

One of the police officers, who I will refer to as “PC X”, emerged from the vehicle in a short sleeve shirt and leather gloves. To my client, he looked like a doorman or enforcer of some kind.

PC X took the lead in what followed and later provided a full statement. In it he said that he saw an illegally parked car and two officers talking to my client, described by them accurately as a white male, 6ft 1 inches tall, of large build, aged around 35-50, and wearing a distinctive work uniform.

PC X said Mr A was shouting, “Does giving a ticket take 40 minutes? I’ve got to go. Hurry up”.

He said that my client appeared agitated with both hands in his pockets. He shouted at any officer that asked him a question and failed to listen to any directions given. The officer said, “From his gestures and pacing around, I took his stance as being hostile and aggressive”.

PC X said that Mr A was “asked on several ocasions (sic) to stop shouting, relax and calm down”, however he appeared to ignore this advice.

The officer continued, “I explained that his actions were liable to make him arrestable to prevent a Breach of the Peace as the area in which we were stood was very busy with members of the public. I would estimate approximately 25–30 persons were in listening distance of the male. I….told him that if he continued to shout he would be arrested. I then explained that the best advice I could give him was to not talk and only answer questions when asked. This appeared to agitate him further where he then began to verbally abuse me directly saying something similar to ‘Oh you’re the big man/cop’. He then continued to shout where I took hold of his right arm and explained that he was now under arrest for a breach of the peace.”

My client was then manhandled, grappled to the ground, and sprayed in the face with PAVA “captor” incapacitant spray (also known as “pepper spray”). He was handcuffed to the rear. The taste of captor is extremely unpleasant and my client tried to spit it out onto the ground. Seeing this, the police covered his head with a spit bag.

They put him in leg restraints and took Mr A to the local Police Station where he was processed and detained.

Body Cameras Reviewed

Fortunately the incident was caught on two officer’s body worn cameras. The quality (both visual and audio) is superb.

At the police station it was decided that my client would be detained so further evidence could be obtained and Mr A could be interviewed. A new officer was assigned to the case. He considered the evidence and watched the body camera footage.

That officer was immediately concerned and handed the file to a supervisor who carried out a further review alongside her co-supervisor. The following is what the supervisor saw and noted. Compare it with the description given in the statement by the officer above (my emphasis in bold):

“The ….officers arrive at scene ….. at approximately 16:30 hours. 

 The footage at this point records PC X opening the conversation with Mr A, saying “hello mate” and “how are we doing” to which Mr A replies “I’m just trying to get my ticket and get back to work”. PC X asks why he’s being aggressive to which Mr A replies “I haven’t been aggressive” and remains standing still with his hands in his pockets. Please note that Mr A maintains this non-confrontational stance throughout the incident until he (sic) taken to the ground later. 

 The situation deteriorates from this point as PC X becomes increasingly confrontational and continues to accuse Mr A of being aggressive. It can be seen from the body language that PC X is getting irritated because Mr A is remaining passive and refuses to be provoked into joining the confrontation.  PC X then accuses Mr A of not answering his questions although in fact he has not asked him anything. He then calls Mr A “a dick” at which point Mr A remonstrates with him asking why it is okay for (police) to say that sort of thing? 

 PC X then arrested Mr A for breach of the peace and for section 5 POA. 

 Although Mr A remained non-confrontational throughout the incident, repeating that he was being calm and that he wasn’t being aggressive, PC Y then tells Mr A not to be obnoxious; at this point he is taken to the ground and PC Y deploys her captor spray. Then Mr A can be heard asking for water as he is “burning up”.

 PC Y can be seen in the BWV footage to kneel on Mr A’s lower back although he is not struggling. PC X accuses Mr A of spitting at him so he is placed in a spit hood. We established later that Mr A was trying to clear his airway from the effects of the spray. 

 The most obvious issue with this incident is in fact there was no necessity to arrest Mr A. …. He did not commit a breach of the peace; he did not breach public order and he did not resist arrest. The entire incident was escalated by the officers attending. A more courteous and good humorous approach would have no doubt resolved the matter. 

 When I viewed the CCTV footage my immediate concern was that the officers’ use of force was excessive in the circumstances – I could not see the necessity to take Mr A to the ground and then also captor spray him. I also felt that the officers failed to treat Mr A fairly or appropriately by refusing to listen to his side of the story. PC X’s conduct deteriorated into orally abusing Mr A and then arresting him for offences he had not committed. 

…..

I would say that PC X on this occasion breached the …. police code of conduct and such behaviour brings the police into disrepute.

The supervisor’s colleague also provided a report & advised that (again, my emphasis in bold):

“From viewing the BWV it was my opinion that as soon as PC X got out of his police car his attitude was ‘bullish’ and continued throughout the remainder of the incident. Prior to him being restrained, Mr A’s hands were in his pockets the whole time, he was never rude to the police officers and was polite to them, he was not shouting and I felt that PC’s X and Y did not respect the fact he was American and their accent is sometimes louder than other accents. PC X was extremely unprofessional by calling Mr A a ‘dick’, it undermined everything else PC X did during the remainder of his contact with Mr A, especially as he later threatened to arrest him for swearing, when PC X did exactly the same.

 I felt that the situation was dealt with very poorly. As police officers we are employed to display excellent communication skills at all times – this was not displayed by either PC X or PC Y at any point, they did not take the time to listen to Mr A to establish why he was upset and then try to resolve the situation, they just kept telling him to ‘calm down and ‘be quiet’. In my opinion they were not working in line with …..police values, they did not show any compassion towards Mr A by taking the time to listen to his point of view, they were just content on trying to keep him quiet and seem to get annoyed when he continued to talk which he is perfectly entitled to do. Police officers are meant to have patience to deal with difficult customers and situations but as soon as Mr A suggested to PC X that he didn’t have any crime to deal with PC X seemed to lose his patience and arrest him for breach of the peace which Mr A had not done. I do not feel that they treated Mr A fairly and certainly did not do the right thing.”

Police Misconduct Caught on Body Cameras

The police body camera footage allowed the supervisory officers to carry out a swift review and establish not only an unlawful arrest but also excessive use of force. As a result, my client, an innocent victim of police misconduct, was released within a short time without charge. Shamefully, the officers involved did not apologise.

And I have no doubt that, without this review, my client would have been charged, prosecuted and, if the magistrates had been deceived at trial, wrongly convicted. 

This case also highlights possible problems in the future. Misconduct proceedings were brought against PC X, the officer in question. Despite his aggressive behaviour and subsequent brazen misrepresentations, his punishment was not instant dismissal.

Instead he was given “management action”, i.e. a slap on the wrist. This means that this rogue officer and his colleagues are still on the streets. They now know how effective body camera footage can be and that it will be used against them if they misbehave.

Next time these officers attend a similar situation, what are the chances that they won’t activate their body cameras?

 

If you have suffered as a result of police misconduct contact me via my firm’s website or call me on 08000 124 246.

 

 

 

 

 

The Compensation Culture Trick

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who discussed the "compensation culture" on BBC Radio.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, discussed the “compensation culture” on BBC Radio.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

Yesterday, James Whale of BBC Radio Essex interviewed me about the “compensation culture” and a Freedom of Information Act request showing compensation paid by Essex Police between 2011-2014. The BBC contacted me as I am a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police who has successfully sued Essex Police for compensation.

The interview focussed on why people receive compensation, how they go about claiming it, and whether there is a “compensation culture”. You can hear it here:

Mr. Whale followed a well-trodden path when he asked me about the so-called “compensation culture”, but to be fair to him, it was just one question in a wide-ranging and thought-provoking interview.

I pointed out that, by discussing the “compensation culture”, he seemed to be focussing on personal injury damages, which, despite the government’s efforts, are still promoted in cheesy adverts on daytime t.v.

The media, police, and government continue to trot out the idea that we are all a bunch of despicable compo-grabbers, claiming compensation for everything and anything, and taking money away from front-line services like the police in the process.

Only last year Norfolk’s Chief Constable Phil Gormley was interviewed on BBC radio about one of his own officers who was making a claim after getting injured at work. He repeatedly blamed the “corrosive compensation culture” for her decision to seek compensation, saying that “it generates a something for nothing attitude”.

As my analysis of the Essex Police figures shows, this is not only wrong, but misses the point and masks the true reasons for seeking redress in the first place.

Freedom of Information Act Data

Essex’s population is about 1.6 million people, served by 3,600 police officers (so the police make up only 0.225% of the total population). The BBC’s Freedom of Information Act request confirmed the following:

2011    Damages paid to members of the public £177,230.04

2012    Damages paid to members of the public £105,350.09

2013    Damages paid to members of the public £149,911.14

2014    Damages paid to members of the public £139,113.69 (to the 15 December 2014)

The following categories of claim are used to record information and payments could be made in any one of these categories: Unlawful arrest / False imprisonment, property damage / loss, dog bites, assault, negligence, breach of Human Rights, breach of data protection.

 2011    Damages paid to Police Officers or Police Staff £20,039.85

2012    Damages paid to Police Officers or Police Staff £135,682.13

2013    Damages paid to Police Officers or Police Staff £47,762.15

2014    Damages paid to Police Officers or Police Staff £241,464.50

The claims are recorded under the single category of Employer Liability Claim but will include : Injury at work claims, stress at work claim, damage caused to personal property whilst on duty, acts of negligence by police officers / police staff.

  • The figures do not include redundancy payments.
  • The figures do not include payments awarded in Employment Tribunal claims
  • The figures do not include ex-gratia and property damage claims
  • The figures do not include motor claims

 

Analysis of Data

These figures show the following:

  1. Between 2011-2014 the total for claims made by the public was £571,604.96. Police officers and staff received £444,948.63. The grand total for all claims paid was £1,016,553.59.
  2.  Essex Police officers and staff account for 44% of all compensation claims paid by the Force despite them making up less than a quarter of a per cent of the region’s population.
  3. Payments to the public over the four-year period were £0.36 per person. Compensation payments to the police and staff were £123.60.
  4. Compensation claims made by the public (all 1,596,400 of them) are broadly going down, so that in 2014 they recovered only 37% of the total paid out by Essex Police. By contrast the Force’s police and staff received the lion’s share of compensation in 2014: 63%.
  5. In the four-year period, compensation claims made by Essex police and staff against their employers have sky-rocketed, from a low of £20,039.85 in 2011 to £241,464.50, an increase of 1205%.

Over half a million pounds in four years looks like a lot of money paid out to the public.

But is it? Compared to police officers and staff, payouts to ordinary citizens are almost non-existent. Police officers and staff themselves claim almost as much money from their employers despite being a tiny proportion of the overall population.

Bear in mind that, according to the Freedom of Information request, the police’s compensation claims include, among other things, the same kinds of claims as the public. (ie. negligence claims by police officers/ staff, such as false imprisonment, unlawfully executed police warrant claims, malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office claims, etc.)

Full disclosure: although most of our clients are ordinary members of the public, Donoghue Solicitors also represent police officers in these claims when they are treated as ordinary citizens instead of employees. Despite their jobs, police officers and staff can be victims of police misconduct too. It’s strangely comforting to think that the police don’t discriminate when abusing their powers.

And it is worth remembering that, regardless of who claims compensation, whatever money paid is well deserved. Police forces only pay out in actions against the police when they have to. Winning claims against the police is hard because they have statutory protections so they can do their jobs effectively without fear of prosecution. As a result, compensation is only paid in appropriate circumstances where police misconduct is clear.

Compensation Culture Myth

This official data shows that the public are making relatively few claims and being paid only in deserving cases.

I’ve written about this in the past but it bears repeating as the message doesn’t seem to be getting through: there is no such thing as a compensation culture.

The government, police, and media are wrong in focussing purely on compensation, especially in actions against the police. Why?

Because there’s more to making a claim than getting paid compensation.

Many of my clients want things that cost nothing like:

  • an apology
  • a promise of protection from future police harassment
  • an acknowledgment that the police made mistakes and a promise that they will put things right
  • an assurance that the police will receive training so others don’t suffer.

In short: they want justice.

A recent case of mine proves this point.

Essex Police made an error when they wrongly effected a police warrant at my client’s flat looking for drugs. He was held for 1 hour 20 minutes while they searched his flat and established that he had no drugs on the premises and was not a criminal.

They did not apologise at the time and, to make matters worse, Essex Police officers brought along a journalist from the local newspaper. The press published pictures of the flat door, showing the house number, and an arrested man’s face, which they blurred in the photograph. Anyone reading the paper who knew my client would have been in no doubt that he was a drug dealer, and not a respectable businessman.

My client was understandably upset and complained to Essex Police. He instructed me to make a claim because they ignored his complaint.

I helped him receive £4,000 compensation and costs but, more importantly for my client, he got an apology and offer to publish a retraction in the newspaper.

I suspect that he would not have claimed compensation if the police contacted him on the day of the raid and gave him an immediate apology, published a retraction, and re-assurance that they would not trouble him again. The fact that they did not offer that simple, and free, solution led to his compensation claim and a payment of thousands of pounds in compensation and legal fees.

Misdirection

I’m sure Essex Police were quietly happy that the Freedom of Information request did not also include a demand for details about whether police complaints had been made and/ or resolved before they received the compensation claims. The police have set the agenda so successfully that no one thinks to ask.

By concentrating solely on compensation, the authorities are cleverly pointing the media and unsuspecting public in the wrong direction. They can paint genuine claimants as grasping opportunists to discourage:

  • legitimate claims;
  • criticism of their misconduct; and
  • questions about their methods when confronted with a complaint.

Instead of more nonsense about the “compensation culture”, surely this is issue politicians and media should investigate. The public have a right to know why the police are spending taxpayer money before offering free remedies. But this puts the spotlight back on the police, and they don’t like that one bit.

 

If you want help claiming compensation from the police contact me on 08000 124 246 or complete the form on my firm’s website.

 

 

Without changes to QOCS, could Ferguson happen here?

It’s said that when America sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold.

If the government doesn’t take urgent action to change its policy on Qualified One Way Costs Shifting (“QOCS”), we might need to get an industrial-sized box of Kleenex® ready.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, explains why.

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor, who explains why QOCS rules must change.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor explains why QOCS rules must change.

In August this year Darren Wilson, a white police officer, killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.

Despite taking place 4,000 miles away, the story is relevant here because there are similarities between our legal systems.

The killing in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, USA, sparked months of riots and protests across America about perceived racism in the police.

On Monday, 24 November, a grand jury convened by the state of Missouri decided not to indict Officer Wilson on charges of murder, manslaughter, or armed criminal action. He will not be prosecuted in the state’s criminal courts with these charges.

Michael Brown’s parents urged calm when the decision was announced, but their wait for justice continues.

So what can they do now?

Compensation Claim

The grand jury slammed the door on state criminal proceedings but a federal (government) investigation continues.

Even if that fails to bring Officer Wilson to justice, the family may still have the right to launch a civil claim against Officer Wilson (and St. Louis police) for wrongful death.

Taking actions against the police in civil court is an important part of the justice system. It steps in where criminal law fails.

It ensures that if Officer Wilson does not face jail time he, and the police force which employs him, could be made to pay compensation to Mr. Brown’s family.

Although compensation can’t bring their son back, a civil court judgment against the police might help the family achieve a sense of justice and closure.

Photo of a Ferguson protest.
People have been protesting about Ferguson since Michael Brown’s shooting.

Civil Claim Against the Police

Using the civil courts to seek justice mirrors my experience.

As a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police, I represent people who have been failed by the police, courts, and the criminal justice system.

For them, seeking justice is often more important than receiving compensation. An apology and/or court judgment can help ease the suffering they have endured and put the police’s misconduct in the past.

For example, my clients A.A. and H.A. initially received only a cursory apology from the Metropolitan Police after armed officers wrongly conducted a dawn raid at their home.

During the raid police assaulted both men. Afterwards they were afraid to be in their own home.  (You can read the full case study here.)

Feeling angry, upset, and mistreated; they contacted me as I am a solicitor who specialises in claims against the police.

I sued the Metropolitan Police for:

  • assault,
  • negligence,
  • trespass,
  • false imprisonment, and
  • breach of the Human Rights Act (right to respect for private and family life).

The Metropolitan Police denied liability, saying they had acted lawfully. And they said that there was no evidence my clients had suffered injuries even though they needed medical attention after the police assault.

This only increased my clients’ sense of injustice.

I prepared the case for trial but, late on, the Metropolitan Police entered into sensible negotiations. I eventually settled both my clients’ claims for £18,000 plus full legal costs and, importantly for them, obtained a full apology from the police.

Both clients were happy that justice had been done and that the police accepted their mistake.

Civil Liberties Threat

Without an independent solicitor like me fighting in their corner, A.A. and H.A. would not have received justice or closure.

Why? Because solicitors who represent victims of police abuse are willing to take on the police when their clients have been abandoned by the Crown Prosecution Service or Independent Police Complaints Commission.

It matters to everyone, including the police themselves, that police misconduct is challenged.

We all benefit when brave citizens take on the State because:

  • police procedures and training are reviewed and improved;
  • individual police officers are held to account and “bad apples” disciplined or sacked;
  • government policy can be influenced; and
  • society sees that justice is done and the Rule of Law upheld.

This last point is crucial. The Ferguson, Missouri, demonstrations show what can happen when the public feel aggrieved.

With all these benefits, you would think that the government would be keen to support solicitors and their clients who bring actions against the police.

Not so.

In itself, civil law is complicated and actions against the police cases are hard to win. But recent government policy towards legal funding suggests that it is determined to make it harder to bring a civil claim.

By doing so, the government is eroding access to justice and, with it, our civil liberties.

Unfair QOCS System

I have previously written about the disastrous impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) (“LASPO”) which came into effect on 1 April 2013.

LASPO introduced Qualified One Way Costs Shifting (“QOCS”) costs protection in personal injury claims.

Even though actions against the police are civil liberties cases at heart, they have been lumped in with whiplash, tripping accidents, and other personal injury claims. This is because personal injury is often part of these cases. For example, there could be a police assault claim for injuries sustained when applying handcuffs during arrest.

The QOCS system has made actions against the police with personal injury claims harder to bring because:

1. QOCS could leave successful claimants short-changed

Pre-LASPO, if the successful claimant won, they recovered their full legal costs and insurance from the responsible party. If they lost, after the event insurance covered all costs except their own legal fees, which were usually covered by no win no fee agreements.

This gave the innocent victim of police misconduct peace of mind that they would not suffer financially as well as physically and emotionally.

Post- LASPO, successful claimants now have to pay their own lawyer’s “success fees” and after the event insurance (if obtained) from their damages. This could discourage claimants as it might leave them with less compensation than they would have received before April 2013.

2. Uncertainty about the extent of QOCS protection

The main advantage of QOCS is that, unless exceptional circumstances apply, a personal injury claimant who loses their case will not have to pay their opponent’s legal costs. And if they have a no win no fee agreement with their solicitor, they don’t have to pay their own legal fees either. As a result, they are left only with their expenses (“disbursements”) to pay. This is useful, but not as good as the old system which provided them with full costs protection either way.

The problem with QOCS in police claims is that it is unclear if it applies to the whole claim or just the personal injury part, and it does not apply at all to cases where no personal injury is claimed, such as trespass cases.

I ran H.A. and A.A.’s cases under the old system so they received 100% of their damages and legal costs.

Under the new QOCS system, because they suffered a police assault, my clients H.A. and A.A. might have received full protection for their entire claim, but I could not guarantee it. They may only have received costs protection for the police assault. In that situation, if they lost, the court might have ordered my clients to pay the Metropolitan Police’s legal costs relating to the rest of their claims for trespass, breach of Human Rights, and everything else.

Unfortunately, the rules are badly drafted and no court has made a decision which solicitors can rely on to advise their clients. This uncertainty about QOCS puts some people off making a claim.

3. Police take advantage of QOCS confusion

Finally, a consequence of the QOCS changes is that, in my experience, the police are more willing to fight cases to trial. They exploit the confusion and now see claimants as a soft touch.

QOCS Consequences for Civil Liberties

The government introduced LASPO to curb the so-called “compensation culture”. It has been proven that doesn’t exist and, even if it did, should our civil liberties be eroded by discouraging people from claiming compensation?

Parliament needs to recognise the consequences of LASPO and act now to extend QOCS costs protection to all actions against the police, even where personal injury is not claimed, so that people can feel confident when standing up for our rights.

Protecting the Rule of Law from abuse by the police must come first. Otherwise, what’s happening in the USA might happen here.

 

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him on 0151 933 1474 or through the Donoghue Solicitors website.

Image credit: Tony Alter on flickr.

 

 

 

 

 

How Police Taser Use is Failing Us All

Is the current police taser policy working? A few recent reports about the police’s use of tasers in the UK suggest not.

Picture of police Taser claims solicitor, Kevin DonoghueBy Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

In 2013, police tasers were deployed 10,380 times across England and Wales. The weapons, which discharge an electrical charge said to be 50,000 volts, cause temporary paralysis. As a result, a police taser can be an extremely effective tool to ensure compliance.

But because the weapon can cause serious injury, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (“ACPO”) own guidelines state that a police taser should only be used where:

  1. the police officers face violence; or
  2.  when they are in a situation where the threat of violence is so severe they need to use force to protect the public, themselves, and/ or the person they are dealing with.

 

Police Taser Use in the News

 

Despite that clear guidance from their own leaders, these recent reports suggest that the officers armed with police tasers are not sticking to their bosses’ rules:

  1. A BBC report states that in the South of England taser use has doubled, leading Amnesty International to express concern about whether they are being used in minor situations instead of the life-threatening or serious violence ones they were introduced to deal with.
  2. Staffordshire Police taser use is three times more than the neighbouring West Midlands Police. The force has the highest level of police taser use per person in the country, and is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) about it.
  3. Lincolnshire Police are using police tasers more than twice as much as neighbouring forces such as Nottinghamshire.
  4. The IPCC questions the point blank use of police tasers.  It notes that the police are officially no longer trained to use the technique of ‘drive stun’, where the police taser is discharged while being held directly against the victim’s body rather than fired from a distance. Despite this, officers are shown that the technique exists and use the police tasers in this way in 16% of cases. The IPCC said that showing officers the option existed but being told not to use it was ‘counter intuitive’. The IPCC commissioner also said that using the taser in this way ‘is purely a means of pain compliance’ which often made the victims of the police taser assaults more resistant.

 

Police Taser Defence

 

With all this recent negative publicity (the oldest story in that group is from 8 April 2014) you might expect the police to go on a charm offensive. But instead of re-assuring the public that the ACPO guidelines are followed, that training will be reviewed, and that the controversial ‘drive stun’ technique will be discontinued, all these reports were defended by the police for various reasons:

  1. Chief Superintendent Paul Morrison head of operations command at Sussex and Surrey police, justified the rise in police taser use by saying it coincided with more officers getting the weapons, and when discussing a case involving the police taser assault on a 14-year-old girl, said “Taser was a low level of force, if you use restraints or baton strikes… they could have led to injuries.”
  2. The Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner said police tasers were often used as a deterrent.
  3. Lincolnshire Police Force’s assistant chief constable, Lee Freeman, said that Lincolnshire’s large rural area is a factor in their comparatively high police taser use; that more of their officers were trained in taser use; and, according to the BBC report, “he said tasers were usually used in circumstances when someone [is] threatening to use violent behaviour.” (my emphasis).
  4. ACPO said that the controversial ‘drive stun’ technique is still shown during training because it could be needed in an emergency. They also questioned the statistics, suggesting that ‘angled drive stun’ (which they said is a ‘viable tactic’) was confused with ‘drive stun’ (the pure ‘pain compliance’ method.)

 

Photo of a police Taser Weak Arguments to Justify Increasing Police Taser Use

 

My thoughts on these responses are:

  1. Ch Supt Paul Morrison’s argument that more tasers equals more use has merit, but to then suggest that police tasers are ‘low level’ weapons undermines his argument. If they are so innocent, why are police tasers being issued to so many officers? Why is Amnesty International involved? Why are the IPCC criticising the police for using them for “pain compliance”?
  1. Staffordshire Police’s point that the tasers are often used as a deterrent is also justified according to the IPCC statistics, but that doesn’t explain why they are using the weapons so much, especially when compared to near neighbours like West Midlands Police, who have a comparable blend of cities, towns, and rural areas to police.
  1. Lincolnshire police say that being a rural force means that they must use their tasers more. This is disingenuous. England and Wales has lots of rural areas where other forces are able to deal with dangerous situations without resorting to the use of police tasers. Derbyshire, for example, only used the weapons 83 times in all of 2013, less than a third of Lincolnshire Police’s total. What did Lincolnshire do before they got their hands on police tasers? Simply let criminals and others they wanted to apprehend get away?

No doubt like Ch Supt Morrison of Sussex and Surrey Police, they would say that if they had to use a truncheon or fist instead that could also cause injury. Perhaps, but often not to the extent of incapacitating someone, who may then fall to the ground and suffer serious secondary injuries, which can be worse than the initial taser shock.

 I am also troubled that, according to the Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, police tasers are “usually” but not always used “in circumstances when someone [is] threatening to use violent behaviour”. The ACPO guidelines above say that the weapons should only be used when the officers or others face violence or the threat of violence. When and why did Lincolnshire Police disregard official ACPO policy? What other circumstances now justify using a police taser?

  1. ACPO’s response to the critical IPCC report on ‘drive stun’ is to defend the tactic, saying that it could be needed in an emergency, e.g when the initial firing missed its target. Are we expected to believe that happens in 1 in 6 incidents? Can’t the police shoot straight?

They also questioned the statistics, suggesting that ‘angled drive stun’ (a ‘viable tactic’) was confused with ‘drive stun’ (the pure pain compliance method). This, to me, seems to be little more than deflecting blame and trying to change the subject to one of how the report was prepared, rather than dealing with the issues raised.

As a solicitor who deals with civil actions against the police on a daily basis, I am not surprised that the police’s responses were defensive. Their mantra when dealing with compensation claims seems to be: deny, deflect, and disrupt. They appear to be taking the same approach with the media.

Police Taser Abuse Defended

 

Tasers can be deadly weapons and, as ACPO themselves state in their guidelines, should only be used as a last resort when faced with violence or a severe threat of violence. The alarming rise in police taser use, the continued use of the painful “drive stun” technique, and Assistant Chief Constable Lee Freeman’s comments suggests this is not happening.

Reading the reports above I am struck that the various police forces respond to challenges by defending their techniques, denying wrongdoing, and challenging the statistics.

This is a systemic issue. Instead of excuses, we need solutions.

It matters because police forces are meant to serve the public, not the state, and an escalation in the use of police tasers suggests that things may have moved too far in the direction of control and compliance.

If the police are to win back public confidence, they need to learn lessons from the seemingly out-of-control increase in police taser use and their bungled media response to it. They could start by properly training police officers using agreed ethical standards which apply to all forces, avoid blaming others, and stop trotting out excuses.

 

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil claims against the police. You can contact him via his firm’s website, www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk, or on 0151 933 1474.

 

Image credit: Marcelo Freixo CC licensed