Edward Bishop is a member of No 1 Serjeants' Inn, London.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner could be forgiven for thinking that the world is against him. Only two weeks after a jury, on 26 April, awarded £220,000 to a hairdresser for wrongful arrest and assault, Daniel Goswell was awarded £302,000, having been hit over the head by an officer wielding a truncheon. Both awards were records when made and are almost certain to be appealed.
But in the midst of this gloom, there was a glimmer of hope. Avi Cashriel's claim against the commissioner was dismissed by His Honour Judge Green QC, on 11 April 1996. Cashriel was arrested in June 1990 after a bitter dispute with his downstairs neighbours culminated in allegations that he had caused criminal damage to their ceiling.
He was kept in custody for four hours then released uncharged. Although he originally claimed the officers arresting him had used excessive force, this was not pursued at trial.
In his action, Cashriel claimed that after the arrest (and as a result of it) he became so clinically depressed that he was dismissed as a trainee accountant and was unable to obtain his certification. He also claimed he has been unable to return to work altogether.
The case raised a number of interesting points, particularly in relation to the role of the jury in assessing quantum and dealing with issues of causation. In the end the jury was not required to adjudicate on any matter at all; the judge dismissed the claim on the basis that the arrest was not an unreasonable exercise of the officers' discretion.
Perhaps the most interesting, and undecided, point was whether or not a plaintiff such as Cashriel had to prove it was foreseeable that he might suffer clinical depression as a result of the arrest alone.
The defendant was prepared to argue that the law relating to damages for trespass to the person ought to be brought into line with that relating to damages for negligence – Cashriel would have to prove it was reasonably foreseeable that the arrest itself (and not the way in which it was carried out) exposed him to the risk of personal injury, whether physical or psychiatric (Page v Smith (1994)).
For the time being the point only remains of interest, but in the light of the massive increase in actions against the police it can only be a matter of time before it will arise for consideration again.