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General Principle:

The issue is whether police officers owe a duty of care to passers-by when attempting to apprehend a criminal.


Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [2014] EWCA Civ 15

Court of Appeal


Mrs Robinson was walking down a street. In the same street Police officers were detaining a suspected drug dealer. The suspect put up resistance and moved up the street. The Claimant was knocked to the ground and injured.


Not fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care. The interest of the public may outweigh the interests of the single individual.


The court held that there was no breach of duty of care. The Court of Appeal dismissed the Claimant’s arguments. It had not been fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care.

Supreme Court


Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police [2018] UKSC 4


The same case as above was appealed to the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court made significant inroads into the principle that the police cannot be sued in negligence save in exceptional circumstances as a result of alleged failures in their core operational duties. The Court stressed that there is no single definitive test that should be used to assess whether a duty of care will arise in any particular case. Rather, what is required is:

“[A]n approach based, in the manner characteristic of the common law, on precedent, and on the development of the law incrementally and by analogy with established authorities”.


Now, where a third party such as a pedestrian is injured as a result of a negligent arrest on the street by a police officer, the police are liable in negligence where that injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the police’s actions.

Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire


The Court examined the evolution of the law regarding the imposition of care obligations. Thus, it is required reading for tort attorneys. Obviously, any case that expressly cites (among others) Donoghue v. Stevenson, Hedley Byrne v. Heller, Anns v. Merton, Murphy v. Brentwood, Caparo v. Dickman, or Stovin v. Wise will be significant.

The Supreme Court went on to state, it is neither essential nor appropriate to consider Caparo as necessitating the application of its familiar three-step analysis to every action brought for the first time. Where the law is unambiguous that a particular relationship or recurring factual situation gives rise to a duty of care, there is no need to rely on Caparo, unless the court is being asked to depart from prior precedent. When subordinate courts have already determined whether a duty of care should be imposed in particular circumstances, the Supreme Court holds that this issue need not be revisited in subsequent cases.

It is remarkable that the court would impose a duty of care on the police in this instance, given the lengthy and consistent line of high authority that appears to have stated unequivocally that no such duty should be imposed on public policy grounds. Nonetheless, the assurance inherent in an incremental approach presupposes that the existing law is properly comprehended. In Robinson, the Supreme Court determined that various statements of the law in this area, including those made by the Supreme Court itself, were either incorrect or had not been properly comprehended.

Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire

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