The Court of Appeal has, this morning in Desmond v Nottinghamshire Police, held that a teacher cannot sue the police in negligence because of misleading information provided by them in an advanced Criminal Records Bureau (‘CRB’) check.
In 2001, Vincent Desmond was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. He was then released, because of a lack of evidence that he was the assailant. The investigating policeman, DC Kingsbury, closed the file with the words: “It is apparent Desmond is NOT responsible for the crime.”
Four years later, in 2005, the police placed a note on Mr Desmond’s CRB entry that he was arrested in 2001 on suspicion of sexual assault. The entry made no reference to the lack of evidence, nor did the police look back at the original file.
Mr Desmond subsequently failed to obtain employment as a teacher and claimed that the police force’s negligence had impeded his search. He sued them for negligence
The Court of Appeal has, today, held that the chief constable does not owe any duty to an individual to make sure that CRB information is correct, and so (irrespective of the levels of carelessness by the police) Mr Desmond’s claim for negligence failed.
The court held that the practical needs of law enforcement, including the need not to inhibit the police from taking operational decisions and forcing them to act defensively, pointed against imposing a duty on the police force to take Mr Desmond’s particular circumstances into account. The Court also held that it was undesirable for police resources to be diverted into expensive litigation. They recognised that this ‘may lead to hardship in some individual cases, but the greater public good outweighs individual hardship’ (judgment para 31).
However, Mr Hill’s opportunities for redress are not closed. He can require the CRB check to be amended under section 117 of the Police Act 1997, he can bring a claim under the Data Protection Act 1984 for processing data incorrectly, or he can bring a claim for compensation under the Human Rights Act 1998 for breach of his right to respect for privacy. He can also appeal to an ombudsman or under the Police Conduct Complaints procedure. Not all of these will result in compensation, but he should be able to have the record set straight.