Policing, professionalism and liability for negligence

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Should the police be subject to a duty of care in relation to their investigative and crime-suppressing functions? The current position, as recently reaffirmed in Michael v South Wales Police (2015) is that they should not. There is however a lack of cohesion in the courts’ reasoning on this point in the line of cases since Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police first addressed the issue. Further in Michael, a separate claim, relying on human rights law, has been allowed to proceed and a similar claim against the police for failings in the context of a rape investigation has recently come before the Supreme Court in D v Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (judgment pending). This article considers whether the concept of professionalism can cast new light on the doctrinal and policy dilemmas the courts encounter in determining the scope of police liability in such circumstances. It explores ideas of professionalism, drawing on the sociological literature and looks at how these ideas take legal shape and form in the field of professional negligence, focusing in particular on the ways professionalism has informed the scope and content of the duty of care. Thereafter, the article explores the instrumental benefits that professional status affords the police, reflecting on these in the context of relevant case law and considering the extent to which they bear upon the question of whether and when the police should owe members of the public a duty of care. It concludes by suggesting that the recently observable shift towards viewing policing as a profession adds further weight to arguments in favour of recognising a duty of care in relation to core police functions at least in some instances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-108
Number of pages23
JournalTottel's Journal of Professional Negligence
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2017


  • policing
  • professionalism
  • negligence


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