Ashley v Chief Constable of Sussex

Reference: [2008] 2 WLR 975 (HL)

Court: House of Lords

Judge: Lord Neuberger

Date of judgment: 23 Apr 2008

Summary: Appeal concerning whether a damages claim arising out of the fatal shooting of the deceased by a police officer should be permitted to proceed.

Appearances: Aidan Eardley (Intervening Party) 

Instructing Solicitors: Russell Jones & Walker

Facts

An officer had shot and killed an individual during an armed raid. The officer was tried for murder but acquitted of murder and manslaughter on the trial judge’s direction, there being insufficient evidence to negative the assertion of self-defence. The family of the deceased brought civil claims against the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable admitted parts of the case and admitted responsibility for “any damages which can be proved to have flowed from the incident and its subsequent events”, but specifically denied assault and battery. The Court of Appeal had held that the claim for assault and battery had a realistic prospect of success and should be allowed to proceed for the purpose of obtaining declaratory relief notwithstanding the concession on damages.  The House of Lords gave the Chief Constable permission to appeal and permitted the officer to intervene.

Issue

(1)  Criteria for the defence of self-defence in tort;

(2) whether the claim should be permitted to proceed,  and in particular whether it would amount to an abuse of process because it would infringe the principle of double jeopardy and/or breach the officer’s rights under ECHR art 6(2).

Held

Appeal dismissed. An honest but mistaken belief held by a defendant that they are under threat of imminent attack is sufficient to entitle them to an acquittal on criminal charges but is not a defence in tort. In tort, the mistaken belief must also be reasonable and the burden of making out the defence rests on the defendant. It was appropriate for the claim to proceed for vindicatory purposes. The claim was not a collateral attack on the officer’s acquittal since it raised different issues, and an award of damages against the Chief Constable would not infringe the officer’s Convention right to the presumption of innocence.