Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989] AC 53

Key point

  • No duty of care is owed to the general public by the police in the course of their investigation of crime

Facts

  • The Yorkshire ripper killed Jacqueline Hill, a student before he was captured
  • C, a relative of Jacqueline sued the police (D), alleging that there were extensive failings in the investigation and failure to apprehend the ripper who they interviewed 9 times

Held (House of Lords)

  • D were not liable in negligence as no duty of care had arisen on the facts

Lord Keith of Kinkel

The two-stage Anns test was applied and the facts did not pass either:

First stage: lack of proximity

  • In contrast to Home v Dorset Yacht, the killer was never in the custody of the police
  • The victim was one of a vast number of the female general public and there was no special distinctive risk to the killer’s activities

Second stage: on public policy grounds, “the police were immune from an action of this kind”: pp 63–64

  • The police owed no specific duty of care to members of the public due to policy grounds
  • Police has discretion in deciding the allocation of resources, which lines of inquiry to pursue and which crimes to be prosecuted
  • Owing a duty to the public at large would lead to defensive conduct when carrying out police functions

Commentary

  • In Michael, the dicta that no duty of care is owed by the police to any specific member of the public in the conducting their investigations was endorsed, but the public policy ground for rejecting duty of care was rejected
  • Lord Reed in Robinson at [55] gave a strained interpretation of Lord Keith’s words on ‘immunity’ as simply referring to an application of the omissions rule