Should the police be sued for failings? We must empower victims of rape, sexual and domestic abuse

Joanne Conaghan, Professor of Law and Head of Law School

Joanne Conaghan, Professor of Law and Head of Law School

Last week the UK’s Supreme Court held that the police owed no duty of care to a victim of domestic violence whose murder could have arguably been prevented had the police not acted negligently in handling and responding to her 999 emergency call. Michael v CC of South Wales is just the latest of a growing line of cases in which the UK courts have denied such claims.

By contrast, a number of other countries whose legal systems are significantly based upon English common law principles have recognised the possibility of law suits against the police in similar circumstances. For example, in 1998, a Canadian court held the police liable in negligence for failings in relation to the investigation of a serial rapist. The claimant, Jane Doe (Doe v Metropolitan Toronto (Municipality) Commissioners of Police) successfully argued that had the police not been negligent in investigating similar earlier allegations, she might not have been raped. In South Africa in 2001, the victim of a brutal attack by a man on bail for attempted rape and with a known history of serious sexual violence successfully sued the police and the prosecution service (Carmichele v Minister of Safety and Security).

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