To summarise the
main arguments that have been put forward in the majority and minority opinions
in the UK Supreme Court 2 judgment “Michael v South Wales Police” from 2015, a
brief summary of the facts seems appropriate to the author.
The appeal before the Supreme Court arises from the murder of a
woman by her former partner. The murder maybe could have been prevented if the
authorities had responded immediately to the victims 999 call. The first 999
call from the victim was registered in the neighbouring Police Force of Gwent.
The victim informed the Gwent Police operator that she had been found by her
ex-partner with someone else and that the ex-partner had bitten her and threatened
to hit her. She also said that the ex-partner threatened to kill her, though it
was not determined if the operator heard this. The operator responded that he
would forward the call to the South Wales Police Force and that they would call
her back. The operator from the Police Force of Gwent then called his counterpart
at the South Wales Police Force where he told him that the ex-partner of the
victim threatened to hit her, not mentioning the ex-partners threat to kill her.
The information was then handed down to officers on patrol which did not grade the
information as one that needs an immediate response. Shortly after the information
got handed down to the police officers, a second call was made by the victim to
the Gwent Police Force, where she first screamed and then stopped after a
moment. The second call was handled with an immediate response by the Police.
They found the victim murdered several minutes later. The ex-partner was
arrested and pleaded guilty to murder, receiving a life imprisonment sentence.
The Estate brought claims against the Chief Constables of the Gwent
and South Wales Police Force for negligence at common law and under the
provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act from 1976 and the Law Reform Miscellaneous
Provisions Act of 1934. They also brought claims for damages under for failure
to protect the victim’s life, breaching art. 2 of the European Convention on
The police applied for the claims to
be struck out or for summary judgement to be entered in their favour.
The High Court refused to grant a
strikeout or summary judgement. The Court of Appeal judges held that summary
judgment should be granted to the police on the common law negligence claim. On
the one Hand, the victim’s family and estate appealed against the decision to
grant summary judgment on the common law negligence claim. On the other hand, the
police on cross-appealed against the decision that the ECHR, art 2 claim should
proceed to trial.
The Supreme Court handed down its judgment on the 28th of
January 2015, dismissing the appeal by a majority of 5 judges to 2. The entire Supreme
Court dismissed the police’s cross-appeal.