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Claims against the police

Litigation Letter

Claims against the police

Johnston v The Chief Constable of Merseyside Police [2009] EWHC 2969 (QB); SJ 8 December p10

The occupier of a property became concerned about the behaviour of the claimant, who had a history of mental health problems, and summoned an ambulance. In accordance with usual practice, the police attended as well. There was a profound conflict between the parties as to what happened but it was common ground that the claimant was sprayed with CS gas and sustained severe blistering to the skin on his face, left ear and chest. He was detained, put in handcuffs and taken to hospital but was not subsequently charged with any offence. The claimant sought damages for false imprisonment and assault but the defendant claimed that the actions of the police were covered by s136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which applies where someone who appears to be suffering from mental disorder is found in a public place and permits a constable to take that person to a place of safety. Under s139(2) no claim arising out of the use of MHA powers may proceed without the permission of the High Court. The defendant argued that the claimant should be denied such permission. The leading authority is Winch v Jones [1986] 1 QB 296 which held the issue is whether, on material evidence immediately available to the court … the claim deserves the fuller investigation which will be possible if it is allowed to proceed. In Seal v Chief Constable of South Wales Police [2007] UKHL 31 the House of Lords held ‘the threshold for obtaining leave under Section 139(2) has been a set at a very unexacting level … an applicant with an arguable case will be granted leave.’

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