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It's a Fair Cop: Supreme Court Reviews Duty of Care (and a Foot Note on the Worboys Case) - Patrick West, St John's Chambers

19/04/18. Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [2018] UKSC 4 SC (Lady Hale PSC, Lord Mance DPSC, Lord Reed JSC, Lord Hughes JSC, Lord Hodge JSC) 08/02/2018.

Everyone who has passed through law school will remember the case about the snail in the ginger beer. Poor old Mrs Donoghue. A smaller number will recall Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605, a much drier case all about accountants. The latest inheritor of tortious principles is poor Mrs Robinson, knocked down in a busy shopping street by a group of policemen arresting a drug dealer.

Since 1990 we should all have been reasonably clear about duty of care and when it arises. But many of us including, it appears, the Court of Appeal, are beset with “uncertainty and confusion” about it. At least that’s the view of Lord Mance who gave the leading judgment of the Supreme Court in Robinson.

Mrs Robinson was 76 years-old and frail. The last thing she expected when she set out down a Huddersfield shopping street in 2008 was that she might be caught up in the arrest of a drug dealer by four plain clothes police officers and injured.

DS Neil Willan spotted the dealer Ashley Williams in a park and called for back up to effect an arrest. The officers decided to arrest Williams outside a bookmakers by two of them taking hold of him and the other two blocking his escape route.

The arrest began. Williams resisted and as the five men tussled they moved towards Mrs Robinson. Williams backed into her and knocked her down with the five men landing on top of her and injuring her. She sued for personal injury in negligence and also assault and trespass to the person occasioned by DS Willan.

Mr Recorder Pimm at first instance found the officers negligent, as they had foreseen that the suspect would try to escape arrest and the potential for harm to nearby individuals if he did, yet proceeded without noticing the appellant's nearby presence. Significantly, DS Willan had given evidence that he would have walked past Williams if any pedestrians were in harms way. He also stated they needed to make the arrest fast before Williams could dispose of his drugs and without him spotting they were police officers. Unsurprisingly given what Williams said about being aware of passers-by the Recorder held, that the police did have a duty of care towards Mrs Robinson and it was reasonably foreseeable she might be injured if they arrested Williams close to her. The blocking officers were too far away to be effective when the arrest began which meant they could not control Williams properly. However, the Judge held that...

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