Top 10 things you should know if you are bringing an action against the police
If you are unlucky enough to have an action (compensation claim) against the police, there are some really important things you should do and, equally, many things you should avoid doing and things that you need to know and understand.
It’s absolutely crucial that you secure evidence as soon as possible. This includes obtaining CCTV footage, collecting names and addresses of witnesses and taking photos of your injuries. If you are injured, whether physically or psychologically, go and see your GP straight away and have them record your basic account, your injuries and your feelings.
2. Make a complaint
It can be helpful to complain promptly. Complaints and compensation claims are different but lodging a complaint shows that you raised the issue immediately and prevents the police later suggesting that you’ve made-up your account later on.
3. See a Lawyer
Any litigation is difficult and all cases benefit from legal expertise. Police cases are particularly difficult though as they involve police procedure and human rights issues that most people know nothing about. They are fundamentally different from a road traffic accident. Getting legal advice early can make the difference between winning and losing.
4. Remember, it’s all about the evidence
You were there, you know what happened. Nobody else does. Lawyers and judges look at evidence. Your understanding of the process is crucial if you are to follow it and understand it. So, here it is – what’s important is what you can prove via evidence. You know what’s true but if you can’t prove it (beyond your own testimony) what’s true won’t matter. You need to understand this if you are to fully appreciate the importance of collecting evidence.
5. Get on with it!
If you have a claim, you must progress it as soon as you can. Compensation claims have ‘limitation periods’. You can issue a case in court whenever you want to, however, if you issue a case ‘late’ i.e. after the limitation period (e.g. 12 months for a human rights claim) then you will need the court’s permission to progress the case. You can guarantee that the police will oppose you and, without a good reason/excuse, you are likely to lose and see your claim struck-out. Furthermore, delay in progressing a case will cause problems with collecting evidence.
6. Keep an injury diary
If you have suffered injuries, keep a diary of your symptoms and any medical appointments including where these were and what happened – e.g. medication prescribed, had an operation, etc. This will be very helpful later on. Remember – you can be injured psychologically as well as physically. Write down how you are feeling too.
7. Let your lawyer prepare your statement
Although we would encourage you to lodge a complaint early, it’s important that you produce your statement/account of events via your solicitor rather than directly with the police. Your lawyer is on your side, the investigating officers are not. I do not suggest here that they are actively against you (I’m sure the police want to get rid of ‘bad eggs’ in their ranks) but, equally, it’s not impossible that the investigating officers know the officer(s) you are complaining about and could have their own agenda.
8. See a lawyer before taking the case to court
I have been approached by many clients over the years who have issued court proceedings themselves without any legal advice and then seek help later on when they’re stuck.
Don’t do this.
I very rarely agree to get involved in such cases as they are likely to have been drafted improperly and need significant rectification (which may have costs implications for you – bad ones). Even if you end up having to take the case to court yourself without legal representation (many people do), seeing a lawyer initially will hopefully provide helpful guidance and enable you to issue a claim that’s in much better shape. This is in your interests (obviously!) and also makes it more likely that a lawyer will get involved later on if you change your mind about needing one.
9. Litigation is expensive
If you’re publicly funded with Legal Aid you may still end up paying some of your solicitor’s legal fees at the end if you win. If you are paying privately or if your case is funded on a ‘no win no fee’ basis the situation is the same and you may have to pay some money towards your case up front. You can’t expect your lawyer to take all the risk.
10. It is not quick
Even a very quick case can take 12-18 months to make its way through exploring an out of court settlement, issuing court proceedings and getting to trial. If you add the time taken to make a complaint on at the start of this (if you deal with the complaint first before issuing proceedings) then you are looking at 2-3 years. Some cases, take much longer especially if there are multiple claimants or multiple defendants.
Bringing a compensation claim against the police is something that is likely to dominate your thinking for a long period of time, both before you start it and after. Understanding the basics of what you need to do to win a case, how your lawyer thinks and what he/she needs to achieve for you is crucial to you understanding the process and how you can help your lawyer advance your case for you.
You’re in it together and you need to work as a team. Yes, they are the experts, but they need your help. You can’t just give them the papers and expect them to deliver a result. You’re partners in the endeavour. Work with them and understand their focus to maximise your chances of success.