LAW REPORT: 28 February 1995 Police reports protected by immunity

Taylor v Anderton. Court of Appeal (Sir Thomas Bingham, Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Rose and Lord Justice Morritt). 13 January 1995.
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Reports prepared by investigating police officers under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 about the conduct of police officers at a criminal trial formed a class which was entitled to public interest immunity.

The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed an appeal by the defendant, Sir James Anderton, former Chief Constable of Manchester, against Mr Justice Owen's decision that three reports of investigations were subject to public interest immunity, and refused the plaintiff, Kevin Taylor, leave to appeal against the judge's order that the action be heard by judge alone.

After Mr Taylor's acquittal of offences of dishonesty, he brought civil proceedings against the chief constable for damages for misfeasance in public office, malicious prosecution and conspiracy, alleging that the police inquiries and charges were conducted with the intention of discrediting the plaintiff and his companies, and John Stalker, an associate of Mr Taylor. Mr Taylor applied for trial by jury and for production of the three reports which had been included in the chief constable's list of documents.

Roger Farley QC and Harold Halliday (Taylors, Blackburn) for Mr Taylor; Brian Leveson QC, Graham Morrow and Graham Wells (Weightman Rutherfords, Liverpool) for the chief constable; Nicholas Ainley (Treasury Solicitor) for the Police Complaints Authority. SIR THOMAS BINGHAM MR said that Mr Taylor had made allegations of a very far-reaching plot to destroy him as a means of destroying Mr Stalker. It was inevitable that the chief constable would seek to deploy a very detailed and heavily documented case to rebut it. The trial would require a prolonged examination of documents which could not conveniently be made with a jury. Turning to the reports, the plaintiff had been served with the documents which were relied on in making the reports. The reports of the investigating team had not. The first issue was whether production of the reports was necessary for disposing fairly of the cause or matter or for saving costs. That question would be remitted to the judge for reconsideration by him. If he decided that production was necessary then it would be incumbent on him to decide whether they fell within a class prima facie entitled to be withheld from disclosure and inspection on the grounds of public interest immunity. In R v Chief Constable of West Midlands, Ex p Wiley [1994] 3 WLR 433, the House of Lords held that public interest immunity did not attach to a class comprising statements obtained for an investigation under the 1984 Act. His Lordship was fully alive to the current opinion strongly flowing in favour of openness and disclosure and also mindful of the fundamental public interest in ensuring that those responsible for maintaining law and order were themselves uncorrupt, law-abiding, honest and responsible. In many cases where an investigating officer was appointed there must be a real prospect of civil, criminal or disciplinary proceedings. The prospect of disclosure in other than unusual circumstances would have an undesirably inhibiting effect on investigating officers' reports. Reports of investigating officers formed a class which was entitled to public interest immunity. That did not shut out the plaintiff if he was able to satisfy the judge that, on the facts of the case, the public interest in disclosure of the contents of the reports or any part of them, outweighed the public interest in preserving the confidentialityof the reports. That was a matter for the trial judge. Ying Hui Tan, Barrister