Background of the Michael [v Chief Constable of South Wales, [2015] UKSC 2 Case

Paper Type: 
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  2008 Words
Date:  2021-03-13

The "Michael [v Chief Constable of South Wales, [2015] UKSC 2 is a case in the United Kingdom that involved Ms. Michael, the victim and her family and the chief constable of South Wales Police and other respondents. The case started in August 2009 when Ms. Michael got in touch with the police at the Gwent police station. During her first call, Ms. Michael stated and explained that her ex-boyfriend and gone to her house and found her with another man hence he was acting aggressively, making threatening remarks while at the same time threatening to kill her. The ex-boyfriend is also said to have attacked Ms. Michael and bitten her ear really bad. While driving the other man home with Ms. Michael's car, the ex-boyfriend threatened her saying that "he will return any minute." Here, this threat means that the man did not give a specific time on when he would return. The ex-boyfriend also told her that "I am going home to drop him and fucking kills you." The recorded transcript showed that the place where the man said "I will kill you" was inaudible so the call handler may have heard "I will hit you."

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The confusion came when the Gwent police call handler graded the call as "G1" meaning that it was an emergency hence it required an immediate response from the police. However, when the call handler called South Wales police, he/she did not mention the threat to kill hence the police graded the call as a "G2" because she stated that the suspect had threatened to hit her, meaning it did not have an emergency. Ms. Michael called again, but she only screamed, prompting the South Wales police to rush to her place where they found her dead after being stabbed numerous times. Later on, the ex-boyfriend pleaded guilty to murder after admitting that he killed Ms. Michael. Proponents of the duty to care principle argued that the police and the person who handled the call were liable for negligence and duty to care because they appeared to neglect her even after she described to them how dangerous the man in question was.

Analysis of the verdict of the supreme court in the "Michael [v Chief Constable of South Wales, [2015] UKSC 2 case

The Supreme Court used seven sitting judges to deliver the verdict, and they delivered it in a 5:2 vote. The judges also held that the claimants' second article claim should be able to proceed to full trial because as the judges stated, the result of the case would mostly be contingent with the quiz of fact of if the phone handler at Gwent police station heard or was supposed to have heard Ms. Michael saying that her boyfriend had threatened to kill her. The division among the judges occurred on the negligence claim, were the claimants argued that if only the police station had acted quickly, they could have prevented Ms. Michael from being murdered by her ex-boyfriend. The judges ultimately dismissed the negligence claim, stating that the police were not liable for what happened as they were not entitled to the duty of care.

According to the claimants, the main question in the appeal case was to whether the police department was guilty in not taking care of the victim, Ms. Michael, due to the police receiving her first telephone call reporting the threatening remarks that Ms. Michael's ex-boyfriend had threatened her with. The judges (Lord Toulson, Lords Neuberger, Lord Mance, Lord Reed, and Lord Hodge answered this on to the negative, with Lord Toulson passing the judging by how the law relating to the duty of care related at the moment. Lord Toulson stated that the current law does not impose liability on the defendant simply because of pure omissions, just like the case of the telephone handler who did not hear the words "I will kill you" but instead heard "I will hit you". It is very hard to determine whether the handler heard well or was just pretending because of the appeal so that it could be thrown away. Lord Toulson stated that there were two distinct exceptions to this case; first, where the respondent was in a position of control over what happened to the victim, such as loss, injury or death and in a case where there was an assumption of responsibility by the defendant over the victim.

The judge also argued that the claimants could not justify the imposition of liability on the police with the only basis being on organizational faults or an individual's defect. This case can also be argued from the point that the police station neglected the victim because had they addressed the distress call, there was a huge chance that the murder could have been prevented hence the young lady could still be alive. There was also negligence on the part of the telephone handler as he/ she seems to relay the wrong information during the trial to absorb the police of any blame (Goudkamp, p. 2).

Upon passing the judgment, Lord Toulson considered three special opinions to address the question of whether the duty of care should be imposed on the police. The first argument the judge presented was that imposing the duty of care on the place would result in the victims of domestic violence being protected adequately from their perpetrators. This opinion was not accepted as there was an argument questioning the legality of prioritizing victims of domestic violence since the duty of the police was in the preservation of the peace of the public at large. This meant that the police were not liable to give special attention to the victims of domestic violence (Mitchell, p. 4).

In his second argument, Lord Toulson was of the opinion that a duty of care regarding a victim and the police comes up if the victim has provided enough and credible evidence that she is in danger or a person has threatened to harm her. In the Ms. Michael case, she phoned Gwent police station whereby the telephone handler picked up all the information and at no time did she ask for clarification. So Ms. Michael rested assured that the police were on their way hence she could get help. This, however, turned out to be not the case as she had to phone again screaming, meaning that she was being attacked. This scenario shows that the police should be held accountable for negligence. The third argument was rejected because it was not clear, with Lord Kerr stating that there is an association of concurrence if the association is sufficiently close for there to be concurrence' it provides no yardstick for answering the question which it poses.

James Goudkamp, "A Revolution in the Duty of Care".

The term "duty of care" means the scenarios and associations that a law or regulation considers as giving rise to a legal obligation to take care of something r somebody. If the party fails to take such care, the case results to the defendant being asked or forced to pay for damages to a person or a party that suffered injuries or had undergone a loss as a result of their breach of the duty of care that is liable to them. The main point is this case is for the claimant to establish that the defendant in the case owed them a duty of care (Goudkamp, p. 3).

Disagreement with Goudkamp assessment

I disagree with Goudkamp assessment that Michael is a revolution in the duty of care, and that is a good development. This is mainly because as Lord Toulson put, the cases involving the duty of care can only be judged by the existing laws. Goudkamp makes a conclusion that Ms. Michael case represents a revolution that brings a change on how the duty of care cases is handled in the United Kingdom. The case shows that the United Kingdom Supreme Court is very willing to break away from the Caparo test that it has been using all these years to argue that "the term duty of care should only be used in some scenarios and not others. James Goudkamp, (p.2) also suggests that the Michael case changes policy considerations that have shown hostility towards the Caparo test are being pushed out of the limelight, and hence, this shows that the Michael case brings a revolution in the case involving duty to care arguments.

The judges in Ms. Michael case had argued that the defendant in the case, South Wales chief constable, does no owe the duty to care to control the conduct of third parties. In this case, the judge meant that the case involving Ms. Michael was not a normal case as she was a third party and the police only were liable for protecting her from aggression in which she was not liable. Again, the call handler at Gwent police station stated that it was not their duty to follow up since they had passed the information required to the South Wales police station, who graded the call as "G2" hence meaning that it was not urgent.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal brought before it arguing that the defendant does not owe a duty of care to manage the treatment of third parties. James Goudkamp argues that Lord Toulson identified two principles that were not even applicable to the case of Ms. Michael vs. the South Wales chief constable according to James Goudkamp. The first principle was concerned with the scenario where the defendant was in a position of control over the third party and should have appreciated that the third party might cause bodily harm to someone if they failed to take reasonable care. This scenario shows the Michael case whereby the telephone handler at Gwent police station was not keen to take the message hence relayed the wrong details to south wales police station. This error led to the death of Ms. Michael. The legal team argued that the telephone handler could not be held accountable for the incidence because Ms. Michael was not audible during her telephone conversation. Lord Toulson also explained the second exception stating that where the defendant assumes to take the responsibility for the claimant under the principle articulated in Hedley Byrne & Co Ltd v Heller & Partner Ltd. The first exception was obviously inapplicable as Mr. Williams never came under the control of the police. Lord Toulson held that the second exception was also inapplicable. His Lordship thought that it was untenable to suggest otherwise as the call handler had not given any undertaking as to how quickly the police would arrive. Lord Toulson considered whether various other exceptions should be recognized to the general principle that liability will not arise for failing to control third parties. His Lordship concluded that none was warranted, principally on the ground that any further exceptions would be difficult to confine within sensible bounds (Mitchell, p. 9).

Consequences of Ms. Michael case analysis for duty of care analysis

The Ms. Michael presented the legal system with many challenges including how to determine when the principle of duty of care could be ascertained. The Court's reasoning in those cases may have raised uncertainties about the expectation of likeliness privileges enjoyed by the likes of the police officers and fire brigade practitioners. Michael's case dispels any hopes of new trend in the Court's decision-making." Despite this, the case showed that in future the principle of duty to care could be considered as civil servant such as police officers should be charged if they neglect their duties. The case did not however show how a court of law can determine if a police officer has neglected their duties or it was an accident.

The impacts of expounding the public law to incorporate the principle of duty of care on the police are appreciated. However, would it have been reasonable to apply the concurrence and reasonableness opinions to additional know the contentment of the duty of care owed to the victim, as Lord Toulson had argued? The idea of changing the common law to inclu...

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Background of the Michael [v Chief Constable of South Wales, [2015] UKSC 2 Case. (2021, Mar 13). Retrieved from

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