Brooks v Commissioner of Police – Case Summary

Brooks v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis

House of Lords

Citations: [2005] UKHL 24; [2005] 1 WLR 1495; [2005] 2 All ER 489; [2005] Po LR 157; (2005) 155 NLJ 653; [2005] CLY 3342.


The claimant (a young black man) was attacked by a gang in a racist attack. During the attack, he witnessed his friend being murdered. His subsequent treatment by police was the subject of a very critical inquiry by the Home Secretary. The officers failed to properly question him and did not believe or follow up on the information he provided. They appeared to assume (based on racial stereotypes) that he was an aggressor. The claimant sued the defendant (the officers’ employer) in negligence.

  1. Did the police owe the claimant a duty to assess whether he was a victim of crime and give him proper support?
  2. Did the police owe the claimant a duty to provide the consideration, support and protection normally given to witnesses of serious crimes?

The House of Lords held in favour of the defendants. The police did not owe any relevant duty to the claimant as a witness or a victim.

This Case is Authority For…

The police do not owe witnesses or victims a duty of care in relation to how they investigate crime. To impose general duties upon the police to look after witnesses and victims of crime is contrary to public policy. The police must have unfettered freedom in how they investigate crime.


Lord Steyn engaged in extensive discussion of the status of Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989] AC 53. He argued that the core principles of that case were still valid law. However, he considered that Hill should be recontextualised in light of the European Court of Human Rights decision in Z v United Kingdom (2001) 34 EHRR 97. In particular, Lord Steyn argued that Hill is better interpreted as denying that the police normally owe a duty to the public (rather than having blanket immunity).

Both sides agreed that the police could owe a person a duty if they assumed responsibility for that person’s well-being. Lord Steyn thought this was correct.