The Supreme Court’s Judgment in the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v DSD and another  UKSC 11 (‘DSD’) made it clear that police services have a positive duty to investigate serious offences committed against individual victims by individual perpetrators and that a breach of this duty by an investigating police service could give rise to a claim for damages under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, the DSD judgment provided some uncertainty as to the degree of criminality that ought to prompt an Article 3 duty to investigate.
The European Court of Human Rights decision in Volodina v Russia (Application no. 41261/17) (‘Volodina’) goes some way to helping police services with determining what type of crime may pass the ‘minimum of severity’ test as Lord Hughes phrased it in the DSD judgment (paragraph 128 of DSD). The decision also provides further authority as what investigative failings may trigger an Article 3 claim and the levels of damages that could be awarded if successful.
Volodina involved a sustained period of domestic abuse against the Claimant by her ex-partner over 2 years in Russia. The Claimant had reported this treatment to the police on several occasions, but a criminal investigation was never opened and key evidence was not secured.
The Court found that physical and psychological domestic abuse including a single blow or verbal threat (paragraph 98) fell into the Article 3 category of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and consequently the police service had a positive duty to investigate domestic violence with ‘special diligence’ (paragraph 92). Further, the Court found that in circumstances when the Claimant withdrew some of her complaints, these were still valid and there remained a need to take positive action. The Court awarded the Claimant damages in the sum of €20,000 for the Article 3 violations by the Russian state.
The failures of the Russian state to adopt suitable domestic abuse legislation played a significant part in the Court’s findings that there had been a breach. However, the reluctance of the police to launch an investigation and secure evidence when faced with credible allegations of serious ill-treatment are an example of the police conduct that could give rise to an Article 3 claim. It therefore appears the case, as it was in DSD, that only ‘egregious and significant’ errors (paragraph 29 of DSD) in an investigation will support a successful claim and not simple mistakes.
The relatively modest level of damages awarded in Volodina, as in DSD, shows these types of awards remain geared towards upholding the standards of the state as opposed to compensating the victim for the loss suffered.
The decision in Volodina ought to remind police services of their duty to victims to take reasonable steps to investigate crimes that would be caught by Article 3 such as domestic abuse and that when dealing with this particular category of crime, the level of inhuman or degrading treatment is a low one. Further, the importance of ensuring competent and prompt investigative actions are taken when dealing with Article 3 categories of crime cannot be stressed enough given serious errors can leave a police force liable to the victim for damages. In a time when 22,000 new police recruits have been promised, experienced, capable investigators will remain a key resource for police services.
If you would like to know more about this matter, please speak to your contact at Plexus Law:
Fred Adams, Solicitor
T: 0161 245 7970 | M: 07786 333 655 | E: email@example.com
City Tower | Piccadilly Plaza | Manchester | M1 4BT
To read/download this Case Alert as a PDF please click here.
Whilst we take care to ensure that the material in this Case Alert is correct, it is made available for information only, and no representation is given as to its quality, accuracy, fitness for purpose, or usefulness. In particular, the contents of this Case Alert do not give specific legal advice, should not be relied on as doing so, are not a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. Plexus Law accepts no responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published in this Case Alert.