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High Court Quashes Police Complaint Decision

IXF, who cannot be named following an order by the High Court, was arrested on 5 September 2019 at his home after his parents had asked West Mercia police to check on his wellbeing following an acute mental health crisis.

Despite attending his home to perform a welfare check, officers arrested him for “malicious communications”. He was detained overnight at his local police station where, following an episode of ill health, he was brought to hospital. He was released from the police station the following morning with no charges brought against him.

IXF’s mother lodged a complaint with West Mercia Police concerning IXF’s arrest and treatment whilst he was being detained at the police station. In February 2022 and with the assistance of his solicitor, Sebastian Del Monte of Hodge Jones & Allen, IXF appealed West Mercia Police’s decision to an “Independent Appeals Panel”. In a written decision described as “surprisingly brief” by the High Court (amounting to a two-page letter and dealing with the substantive issues of the appeal in a few short sentences) the Appeals panel rejected IXF’s complaint.

The Appeal Panel’s decision was then challenged at the High Court by way of judicial review. A hearing took place on 15 September 2023 at the High Court of Justice sitting in Birmingham in front of HHJ Worster. His judgment was then handed down and circulated on 13 October 2023.

At the High Court, IXF was represented by Sebastian Del Monte of Hodge Jones & Allen and Leonie Hirst of Doughty Street Chambers. Following a day of legal argument, the court concluded in its judgment that:

“Standing back, and having read and re-read the appeal decision, the confused approach and the inadequate reasons leave me in serious doubt as to whether the issue of the Claimant’s arrest was considered afresh by the panel in accordance with Statutory Guidance…”1

The Appeal Panel’s decision was determined to be unlawful and so was quashed and sent back to the Appeal’s Panel to be re-determined.

IXF’s solicitor, Sebastian Del Monte said: “This decision by the High Court adds to the overwhelming evidence that the police complaints system is broken and requires considerable reform. Police forces across the country routinely refuse to take complaints by members of the public seriously, often delaying and dithering whilst innocent complainants are mistreated and disbelieved.

“The complaints process is the only means by which members of the public can raise deficiencies within our policing practices and for those deficiencies to be rectified. Police forces cannot be trusted to investigate themselves appropriately as they will instead hope that complainants are put off by years of legal battle. It is a credit to IXF and his family that they were willing to go through the stress of this broken complaints system and it is thanks to that tenacity that they were eventually vindicated.”

1See paragraph 46 of The King on the application of IXF (a protected party) by his litigation friend OZM
-v- Chief Constable of West Mercia Police [2023] EWHC 2793 (Admin)

Editor’s note:

  1. A full copy of the High Court’s judgment can be circulated upon request.
  2. Although some complaint appeals are heard by the Independent Office of Police Conduct, not all appeals do.
  3. A “welfare check”, although not a power or duty directly specified in law, is interpreted by many police forces as a requirement to investigate any report that someone’s life and wellbeing may be at risk.
  4. “Malicious communications” refers to two possible offences: section 127 of the Communications Act 2003; or section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988. Both offences, broadly, require an offender to send a communication in order to purposefully cause distress, alarm or anxiety.
  5. A judicial review is a remedy available to Claimants seeking to challenge unlawful, irrational or wholly unreasonable decisions made by public authorities.
Further Reading Civil Liberties & Human Rights