West Law Report

Duty to investigate events before police contact

Posted in Times Law Report by mrkooenglish on November 16, 2008

From The Times
November 6, 2008
Duty to investigate events before police contact

Court of Appeal
Published November 6, 2008
Regina (Reynolds) v Independent Police Complaints Commission
Before Lord Justice Ward, Lord Justice Longmore and Lord Justice Jackson
Judgment October 22, 2008

Where a man who had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly was found, while in custody, to be in a coma and was later shown to be suffering from a serious injury which might have been caused during or before he was taken into custody, the Independent Police Complaints Commission had a power and a duty to investigate independently the cause of the injury even if that meant that it had to investigate events which occurred before the man had come into contact with the police.

The Court of Appeal so stated in a reserved judgment dismissing the appeal of the second defendant, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, from Mr Justice Collins in the Queen’s Bench Division ([2008] EWHC 1240 (Admin)) who granted the application of the claimant, Garry Reynolds, appearing by his brother and next friend, Graeme Reynolds, for declaratory relief in judicial review proceedings brought against the Chief Constable of Sussex Police, the first defendant, now appearing as interested party, and the IPCC.

The judge declared that: (i) the IPCC had erred in law in concluding that it had no power to investigate events prior to the claimant’s first contact with the police, and, in particular, to investigate whether some event prior to that time might have caused or contributed to his medical condition thereafter; and (ii) such an investigation was necessary in order to meet the requirements of articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as scheduled to the Human Rights Act 1998.

The claimant was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in the early hours. He was taken to the ground by police while being arrested and there was evidence that he might have hit his head at the time.

The next day he could not be awoken, and he was later found to be in a coma; although he had come out of the coma he had suffered severe paralysis and cognitive impairment.

Mr Richard Clayton, QC and Mr Ben Brandon, instructed by Miss Sabeena Asad, for the commission; Mr Sam Grodzinski for Mr Reynolds; Mr Richard Perks for the chief constable.

LORD JUSTICE LONGMORE said that the critical provision was section 10 of the Police Reform Act 2002.

The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the House of Lords required that any inquiry into a death in custody had to be independent and the same requirement of independence had to apply to any inquiry into serious injury occurring while a person was in custody.

The defendant had submitted that it was not for the IPCC to conduct any investigation into the conduct of members of the public, and/or if it was for the IPCC to do so, the investigation need not be independent of the police.

However, that was to confuse the duties of the police and the IPCC. It was for the police, not the IPCC, to conduct investigations into possible criminal conduct on the part of members of the public; but it was for the IPCC to investigate possible misconduct on the part of the police.

That would often require the IPCC to investigate whether death or serious injury was caused by the police or by someone or something else. That was an inquiry into causation.

To the extent that a member of the public might have caused death or serious injury, that would tend to exonerate the police; but if other causes of death or serious injury were never suggested, or could be excluded, that might make it more likely that death or serious injury was caused or contributed to by acts or omissions of the police.

Inquiry into causation was a single, although in this case composite, enquiry, and it was idle to suggest that part of that inquiry had to be independent of the police but part of it need not be.

Thus, in the instant case, the IPCC had a power and a duty independently to investigate the cause of the claimant’s coma even if that meant that it had to investigate events which occurred before the claimant had come into contact with the police.

It was for the IPCC to decide how it conducted its independent investigation; and since the method of investigation was a matter for its discretion it was unlikely that any successful attack could be made on any particular method which it chose, so long as it was independent.

Finally, where the judge had stated that in his view the IPCC could use the services of the local police force if those services were provided by the professional standards department rather than the force’s ordinary opera-tional officers, it was to be emphasised that those comments, which were in any event obiter dicta, should not be taken to be authoritative.

The judge’s declarations would be affirmed.

Lord Justice Jackson and Lord Justice Ward agreed.

Solicitors: Hickman Rose; Mr Richard Grout, Lewes.

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