Duty on police to investigate
Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights imposes an operational duty on police officers to conduct proper investigations into allegations of ill-treatment.
Between 2003 and 2008, John Worboys, a black cab driver in London, committed a string of sexual offences against women. The first and second respondent, DSD and NVB, were victims of Worboys.
DSD and NVB brought proceedings against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for the alleged failure of the police to conduct effective investigations into the crimes committed by Worboys.
The claims against MPS were brought under Sections 7 & 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. The central point of their claim was that the police failures in the investigations of the crimes committed by Worboys constituted a violation of their rights under Article 3 of ECHR. This point was accepted by the Court of Appeal and the court awarded compensation to DSD and NVB. It was found that there was a positive duty owed under Art 3 ECHR to investigate crimes committed by non-state persons in order to ensure that individuals are protected against ill treatment.
Although the Court of Appeal also stated that not every failure to investigate will lead to liability under Article 3.
MPS appealed this decision to the supreme court, albeit stating they would not seek to recoup the compensation already paid to the complainants.
In this appeal to the Supreme Court, the principal issue was to clarify the nature of the general duty to investigate.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that the positive obligation to investigate allegations of ill-treatment is not solely confined to cases where allegations have been made against state agents. Article 3 places a positive duty upon the police to investigate crimes committed by non-state persons in order to ensure that individuals are protected against ill-treatment of the seriousness envisaged by Article 3. This is a duty which is owed to individual victims.
In order to be an effective deterrent and serve its purpose, the Court stated that the law prohibiting ill-treatment must be rigorously enforced and complaints of such conduct must be properly investigated. The majority of the members of the Supreme Court were of the view that serious failures which are purely operational may suffice to establish a claim; claims are not limited to so-called ‘structural' failings.
3 May 2018