Tort textbooks set for update as new Supreme Court judgment changes law of negligence

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Donoghue v Stevenson, Caparo v Dickman and Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police all get a mention

The Supreme Court has released a judgment today described by one lecturer as a “must read” for tort enthusiasts. That’s because the Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police ruling not only changes the law of negligence, but gives readers a whistle-stop tour of their favourite tort law cases, too.

The ruling — which Legal Cheek anticipates will find its way onto tort law syllabuses — name checks the likes of Donoghue v Stevenson, Caparo v Dickman and Hedley Byrne v Heller in its 47 pages. However, it’s the seminal case of Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police that’s most relevant.

Hill will be instantly recognisable to tort students as it contains the principle that the police are generally immune from negligence claims in respect of their detection and investigation of crime. The Hill claim was brought by the mother of Jacqueline Hill, the final victim of mass murderer ‘the Yorkshire Ripper’. She had sued the police for negligently failing to prevent her daughter’s death, but was unsuccessful.

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But does this general immunity extend to positive acts done by the police? That’s what Lady Hale and Lords Mance, Reed, Hughes and Hodge were tasked with considering in July, in the Robinson case.

Justices hearing Robinson in July

Elizabeth Robinson was knocked over and severely injured in 2008, then aged 76, when she got caught up in the arrest of a suspected drug dealer. She had tried to bring personal injury proceedings against the police, but failed at both first instance and on appeal because of the Hill immunity.

But today the Supreme Court, changing the law of negligence, allowed Robinson’s appeal. The court was satisfied the case concerned a positive act as opposed to a Hill-esque omission, the bench concluding that there was a duty of care between the parties and that that had been breached. Reed said that Hill is not:

“[A]uthority for the proposition that the police enjoy a general immunity from suit in respect of anything done by them in the course of investigating or preventing crime. On the contrary, the liability of the police for negligence or other tortious conduct resulting in personal injury, where liability would arise under ordinary principles of the law of tort, was expressly confirmed [in older authorities].”

Doughty Street silk Nicholas Bowen acted for Robinson in the case, while Jeremy Johnson QC, of 5 Essex Court, acted for the police.

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Always good to get an authoritiative and potted summary of an area of law (in this case the imposition of duties of care). The commentary on the Caparo standard is particularly helpful.



a genuinely useful article, thank you.



I disagree. There isn’t one single meme here, nothing on diversity and barely a mention of Lady Hale.

D –



A tortoise point…



Except that this decision doesn’t change the law. It just confirms that (as the quote says) Hill is NOT authority for an immunity from suit for police. The issue is and always has been about duty to protect from third party’s acts. The really interesting one will be CN v Poole if it goes to the UKSC…


Not Amused

I don’t generally give the Supremes praise (and there is still a lot of silly things they do) but dealing with this in 48 pages is to be thoroughly commended.

One might ask quite why Siddiqi runs to 63. But Siddiqi is far from the worst offender where the issue of judicial verbosity is concerned.



Not Amused, a few points.

First, it’s Siddiqui, not Siddiqi.
Secondly, there ‘are’ a lot of silly things they do.
Thirdly, Siddiqui is a first instance judgment, and therefore deals with determination of matters of fact, as well as all aspects of the claim. By the time something reaches the Supreme Court, the points in contention are inevitably more focused. Perhaps you only practise in the appeal courts so are unaware of this (though I suspect you’re more likely to find yourself in some far-flung Mags Court or the Traffic Penalty Tribunal).
Finally, I very much doubt the Supreme Court Justices lay awake at night concerned by your criticisms. To my mind, we are incredibly blessed with the quality of judiciary in our highest court, as well as the general quality of the advocacy there (with occasional exceptions).


The Court of Piepowders

This is not really a development of the law, more a confirmation of what we already knew – Michael v CC of SW and indeed Entick v Carrington all establish the ordinary liability of the police on orthodox tort liability grounds. Equally, the ECHR says that kind of immunity is not ECHR compatible (and thus s.6 HRA compatible) in Z v UK.

Or am I missing something?



A judgment is handed down, not released.



Your mum handed down me last night before I released.



That was neither funny nor clever.



Neither is your mum.



I never said she was.



The court aren’t changing the law of negligence. As Lord Reed stated, their judgement is based upon “well established principles of the law of negligence and does not require the court to consider any development of the law”






Tort books are useless. Sorry, but they are.



I disagree with the title of this article.

I think it would be more accurate to say the Supreme Court clarified the principles relating to tort claims against the Police today, rather than changes them.

However, I appreciate the above is not as sensational or attention-grabbing as the current headline.

A very helpful, relevant and important article.

Thank you and please carry on the great work.



If you practice in this area, then it’s a pretty significant case!


Wash n Wear

And lo, nothing was said


Washed, worn, shat-in and washed again

I’m getting too old for this…



Spare a thought for your mum



The link to the judgement gives a very poor quality version – lines blurred out or altogether missed – is there a better read-able quality?


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