Lawyers reject police ‘tactical suing’ claim

A LEADING legal authority on civil actions against the police has hit back at claims that lawyers are “tactically” suing the force in London because it is a “soft target”.

Hugh Tomlinson, a barrister at New Court Chambers, says the rise in out-of-court settlements is probably because people are becoming increasingly aware of their rights.

“It is distressing that senior officers apparently haven’t come to terms with the fact that civil actions are brought because of the unlawful behaviour of their officers,” he says.

Tomlinson, joint author of Civil actions against the police, says the police would do better to look more closely at why cases are brought, rather than blame those who are bringing the cases in the first place.

Some lawyers were baffled by the comments of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Condon who was attempting to explain the record number of payouts revealed in the annual report.

He said the Met was considering a get-tough policy with more cases being fought in court.

“One of the things we fear is that more and more people are tactically suing the police and the Metropolitan police is being seen as a soft target.”

Beverley Brown, of Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre, which is bringing a handful of cases against the Met, says people sue because the police complaints system is weighted against them.

She says people are not suing without grounds because they would get neither legal aid nor be able to win damages.

But some authorities recognise that the decision to settle early can be taken on commercial grounds bearing little relevance to liability. If a police force defends an action in the courts and is successful, it is often lumbered for a bill for costs because plaintiffs are usually legally aided.