A prison officer was attending a prisoner’s cell. When the prisoner refused to get up and strip his bed, the officer took a step towards him. The prisoner then struck the officer in the eye. The resultant injury ended his career in the prison service.

The officer later learned the prisoner had been involved in 20 previous assaults on prison officers. He said that, had he know about his long history of violence, he would have taken further precautions.

The defendant said it was the officer’s responsibility to make relevant enquiries. The High Court disagreed. The Justices said the prisoner’s history sheet could and should have included a simple warning about his history of assaults on prison officers. It had not been given to the officer.

The senior officer in charge should have ensured that information was available. This would have resulted in extra precautions that would have prevented the incident. The Ministry of Justice was negligent in failing to distribute this information and exposing the officer to a foreseeable and unnecessary risk.

David Glyn-Lloyd -v- Ministry of Justice, 2007 EWHC 2475 (QB) QBD, Judge Foster QC 26/10/2007

False imprisonment by the police; detaining law-abiding people in a crowd can be lawful

The Court of Appeal found that the police had committed the tort of false imprisonment in detaining law-abiding people in a crowd at the May Day riots in 2001. However, the police could and did escape legal liability by showing this was a lawful deprivation of liberty.

To do this they had to show there was no other means whatsoever whereby an imminent breach of the peace could be avoided: R -v- Chief Constable of Gloucestershire (2006) UKHL55

The police knew that not everyone in the crowd was a demonstrator or liable to cause a breach of the peace but the containment was lawful because, the Court of Appeal held, the crowd had to be restrained to avoid imminent risk of serious violence by other people.

Nor was this a breach of the right to liberty under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950. This was appropriate when there was a sort of arbitrary detention but this was a meaningful detention of people for a good reason.

Neither the common law case or claim under Article 5 changed because the detention went on for several hours. The situation was dynamic and the right to keep people in the cordon continued for the several hours in which they were detained.

Christian Khan Solicitors represented the unsuccessful individuals who had appealed.

Austin & another -v- The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (2007) EWCA Civ 989