The police exist to maintain law and order, to investigate crime, and to assist victims who have suffered wrongdoing. However, unfortunately there are times in which the police act in excess of their power,and fail to respect the rights of the people that they have a duty to protect. If you have been the victim of improper policing, it may be possible for you to bring a law suit against the police, and receive monetary compensation for the suffering you have been caused. Legal claims of this nature are known as actions against the police.
Actions against the police come in many forms, but normally arise where a person has suffered harm due to the police failing to do something required of them, or through their doing a positive act that is unlawful. In legal terms this is known as committing a "negligent tort" or an "intentional tort". A "tort" is a legal phrase meaning a civil wrong, in contrast to a criminal wrong.
It is important to note that a civil action against the police is distinct from any criminal prosecution that may be launched. An action against the police is brought in the civil courts, and if it is successful the victim bringing the claim may receive financial compensation. A criminal prosecution is brought in the criminal courts, and if successful may result in the police officer being convicted of a crime and punished. Generally, a civil claim against the police can be brought in addition to, or instead of, a criminal prosecution.
Some common examples of actions against the police include the following:
In the course of their duties, the police are entitled to use force that is reasonable and in line with their powers under the law. This includes, for example, using reasonable force to detain someone in the course of an arrest, when that person poses a sufficient risk to merit physical restraint. This power is provided by sections 153 and 154 of the Police Law (2017 Revision).
However, there may be times when the police exceed their powers and use force that is unreasonable in the execution of their duty. This can result in serious injuries to the victim. In such cases, it is possible to make a claim against the police for financial compensation based on the nature of the injury or suffering caused.
Case Study 1: The police want to arrest Mr X, and go to his address to do so. They find him sitting outside his property. When they ask him to come with them, he initially refuses to do so. One of the officers then punches Mr X in the stomach so that he can be handcuffed. Mr X sustains bruises. In this case, Mr X may well have a civil action against the police for assault (also known as the intentional tort of battery), and breach of the Police Law (2017 Revision).
Under Article 5(2)(e) of the Cayman Islands Constitution, no one shall be deprived of their liberty unless there is reasonable suspicion that he or she has committed, is committing or is about to commit a criminal offence. In order for the police to arrest a person and hold them in custody, there must therefore be reasonable grounds to suspect that person is involved in a crime. Grounds for detention may include evidence from a source that the person has committed a crime, for example the account of an eye witness. However, in order for those grounds to be reasonable, they must be such that an ordinary, objective person would agree that the grounds stand up to scrutiny. This may include, for example, evidence that the eye witness gave a reliable account. If a person is detained without reasonable grounds, they may bring an action against the police under the tort of false imprisonment,and due to a breach of their civil rights under the Constitution.
Case Study 2: Miss Y is arrested by police and kept in custody for three days. At the time of arrest, she is not given any reasons beyond saying that she committed a crime. After she is released, she makes enquiries and discovers that the police had no real basis for suspecting her of the crime, but had detained her just because she had been in the area of a robbery some hours after it was committed.She may well have a civil action against the police for false imprisonment.
As part of their duties, police must ensure that they investigate all lines of enquiry adequately and in a manner proportionate to the nature of the allegation. Where they fail to do so, this can lead to victims being deprived justice, or the wrong person being made to stand trial. Failure to investigate to the required standard, or to investigate at all, may cause pain, anguish and suffering to individuals. This can give rise to a claim against the police for their negligence (the tort of negligence), or for breaches of constitutional rights under Article 3 (Inhuman Treatment) and Article 9 (Private and Family Life) of the Cayman Islands Constitution.
Case Study 3: Mr Z was attacked in the street by a neighbour. He sustained cuts to his arm and had to have surgery to treat them. He made a complaint to the police but they ignored his requests, saying that they could not help because of their time being taken by other more important matters. As a result, Mr Z was left feeling depressed and could not attend work for six months. Mr Z may well have an action against the police for their failure to investigate the crime.
The prospect of bringing a legal claim against the State can be intimidating. However, justice requires that the police force is held to account, and that any wrongs caused by improper policing are appropriately compensated. This provides justice to the individual who has been harmed, and also serves as a reminder to the police that they should not exceed their powers. As seen above, there are a number of ways in which police misconduct can be challenged, and proper compensation can be gained.
Samson Law are able to provide expert advice and to assist you in the complicated process of bringing an action against the police. If you would like to talk to Rupert Wheeler or his colleagues at Samson Law,please contact 949 0123.