Witness Immunity Rule Extends to Harassment

CA rules that complaints to the police are immune from suit

The Court of Appeal has today ruled that an individual who makes a complaint to the police cannot be sued for malicious procurement of arrest or false imprisonment or rely upon the complaint to the police as part of a course of conduct under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

In Crawford v Jenkins, the defendant made a complaint to the police that the claimant, her former husband, had breached a restraining order made following his conviction for harassment of her on earlier occasions. He was arrested and interviewed but a decision was taken not to prosecute him on this occasion. He sued, first the police, then the defendant for false imprisonment, wrongful arrest, malicious procurement of arrest and under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. At trial the claims were held to be covered by immunity for suit as explained in Westcott v Westcott [2009] QB 407 and were struck out.

The Court of Appeal (Beatson LJ, Sharp LJ and Sir Timothy Lloyd) upheld the decision of the Judge below and dismissed the appeal. Giving the lead judgment Sir Timothy held that the witness immunity rule that precludes an individual suing in defamation in respect of a complaint to the police covers all causes of action which do not lead to proceedings, whether criminal or civil, and therefore cannot be said to be an abuse of the process of the court.  He held that the policy of the immunity rule applies just as much to a claim in harassment based on a statement to the police as it does to a claim in defamation.

5RB‘s Adam Speker acted for the defendant in the Court of Appeal and at trial.

A 5RB case report can be found here.