4 May, 16

Suing the Police

Do you want to claim compensation?

The procedure for pursuing a civil claim against the police is governed by the civil procedure rules. The procedure is started by serving a formal Letter of Claim on the Chief Constable of the police force that you are complaining about. The police will then have 21 days to acknowledge receipt of this letter and 3 months thereafter to investigate the matter and provide a formal response on liability. If liability is accepted, you can then look to negotiate a settlement. If liability is denied, the next step would be to issue court proceedings in your local County Court.

Normally, a claimant (the person bringing the claim) has 6 years to issue court proceedings from the date giving rise to the claim ie date of arrest. This time limit is reduced to 3 years where the person is alleging that he has suffered personal injuries as a consequence of the incident. A claim under the Human Rights Act 1998 should be brought within 1 year.

Once a claim has been issued, it would normally proceed to a trial around 9-12 months later. Before this, witness statements, medical evidence and any other relevant documentation will be exchanged.

In order to pursue a claim, you must have a cause of action in law. Examples of these would be Assault or Malicious Prosecution.

Unlawfull Arrest and False Imprisonment

The police in England and Wales have fairly extensive powers to arrest and detain people. However, they can still get this wrong and false imprisonment (which is sometimes known as unlawful arrest) occurs usually where the police make an arrest which cannot be lawfully justified. The test for arresting a person is whether the arresting officer has reasonable grounds to suspect you are involved in a crime for which an arrest is necessary.

Examples of claims:

  • If it was not necessary to arrest you and you could have attended a police interview as a volunteer
  • If the arrest was initially lawful but the length of detention is excessive or the procedural requirements of detention have not been met. The police have to justify detention on a minute by minute basis.

Malicious Prosecution

You may have been prosecuted for an offence and acquitted and there is evidence that the police did not have enough evidence in the first place to charge you and therefore, that they did not have an honest belief in your guilt. If so, you may have a claim for malicious prosecution. You may believe that the police may have fabricated evidence to cover up serious wrongdoing or failings on their part. These cases can be complex as it is necessary not only to prove what the police have done but also their motive for doing so.

Police Assaults

An assault or battery may have occurred if the police have used 1) unlawful force or 2) excessive or unreasonable force when arresting or restraining you.

Example of claim:

  • where the police have used handcuffs when it was not necessary
  • assaults with police tasers, batons and cs spray
  • police dog bite cases
  • if your biometric data (fingerprints, DNA and photographs) have been taken and the case against you has been discontinued but they have not been destroyed on your request

Data Protection

The police hold lots of sensitive information about arrests and convictions which they will provide to potential employers when an application is made for a Criminal Records Bureau check and also relied on when visa applications are considered.

A complaint may arise if it comes to light that the data held is inaccurate or provided to third parties without your consent or where certain safeguards are not complied with. The consequences of data protection breaches are often serious with a person being refused a job or being sacked by their employer, being refused visa clearance, being evicted from their house or their character being questioned in their local community.

This area also impacts on Article 8 of the Human Rights Act if you can show that your right to private and family life has been breached. If you can show that you have suffered actual financial loss as a consequence of the breach, you may be able to claim compensation.

Unlawful Searchers

The police do have powers to stop and search but only in certain conditions. An officer must have reasonable suspicion that the person they are stopping is carrying a stolen or prohibited item. Police officers are under an obligation to provide certain information to the person being searched. This includes the officer’s name, their shoulder number or the station they are based at, the law the search is based on, the reason for the search, what they are looking for and why they have chosen to search you. They should not ask you to remove more than the outer layers of clothing in view of the public and cannot usually ask you to provide your name or address.

If these requirements are not complied with, the search is likely to be unlawful. Further the search may lead to force being used if you decide not to cooperate or handcuffs being used. It can sometimes lead to you being arrested for an offence such as obstructing a constable. If so, you may also be able to claim for additional causes of action such as assault and false imprisonment.

There can also be a claim for an unlawful search on land if police officers have entered a house or garden without permission or a warrant or any other lawful justification. In some cases, it is possible to show that whilst the police may have entered under lawful authority, if they have committed a trespass ie by assaulting the owner whilst conducting the search, the entire search can be deemed to be unlawful.

There will be a potential claim where goods are damaged by the direct and deliberate actions of police officers, where they lose goods they have seized and where they refuse to return goods which they have seized which they no longer require for the purpose of their investigation.


The right to protest is a fundamental democratic right. The Human Rights Act protects the right of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. We can also advise on the statutory and common law restraints on the police when dealing with protests.


If a police officer knowingly or recklessly abuses their powers or commits an act intended to injure you then you may have a claim for misfeasance.

Examples of claims:

  • If a police officer discloses information to a third party with the intention of causing someone damage
  • If a police officer falsifies evidence knowing that they will have negative consequences on someone short of prosecution
  • If a police officer makes a lawful arrest with a malicious motive
  • If a person is prosecuted by police officers who are acting maliciously but with reasonable and probable cause
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