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Court of Appeal grants permission to appeal case relating to the liability of police in the tort of negligence

14th November 2023

On the 31st October 2023, the Court of Appeal granted the Defendant permission to appeal the decision in Woodcock v Chief Constable of Northamptonshire [2023] EWHC 1062 (KB).

The claimant’s neighbour called the police to report that they had seen the claimant’s ex-partner, T, outside the claimant’s property, that she was going to be leaving soon, and that T was probably planning on attacking her. The police knew that T posed the claimant a risk, having previously constructed a safety plan with her centred on keeping T away from the house, working with neighbours to spot him, and making sure she charged her phone. Some 12-13 minutes after the phone call, the claimant left her house, and T brutally attacked her. She brought a claim on the basis that the police had been negligent in not informing her about the presence of T in her area. Mr Justice Ritchie held that in the “exceptional” and “extremely fact-sensitive” circumstances, the police owed the claimant a duty of care. They had breached this duty by failing to warn the claimant of the danger posed by T. Ritchie J remitted the case so the trial judge could hear evidence on the issue of causation.

The Court of Appeal’s decision may have significant ramifications for the scope of liability of public authorities in the tort of negligence. In general, courts are reticent to impose on police duties of care to the public; in Hill v Chief Constable [1989] and Michael v Chief Constable [2015], the House of Lords and Supreme Court (respectively) held that police owe a duty of care to the public at large and not specific individuals within it. However, this case appears to be the first in which the High Court recognised an exception on the facts, following the Supreme Court’s lead in Robinson v Chief Constable [2018].

Matthew Holdcroft represented the Defendant before the High Court and will do so on appeal.

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