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Supreme Court to decide police liability in domestic violence death

The UK Supreme Court is set to determine whether the police’s failure to protect a woman from domestic violence breached her right to life.

Joanna Michael was stabbed to death by her former partner in her Cardiff home in August 2009 while she waited for the police to respond to her 999 calls.

The woman’s family took legal action against the Gwent and South Wales police forces, citing negligence. They claimed the police’s failure breached Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This stipulates that every person has a right to life. In Osman v United Kingdom, the judges considered whether Article 2 could imply “a positive obligation on the authorities to take preventive operational measures to protect an individual whose life is at risk from the criminal acts of another individual”.

When Joanna Michael’s family took their case to the Court of Appeal, the negligence claim was dismissed because current law exempts the police from any negligence claims. However, the Article 2 claim was allowed. The police objected to the ruling and took the case to the Supreme Court.

Human Rights charity Liberty and domestic violence charity Refuge will dispute the police’s case.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said it was important to challenge the police on this case as it was representative of a broader problem.

“The list of women who have been failed by the police and other state agencies is shockingly long,” she said.

Removing police immunity from negligence claims in domestic violence cases would be “a positive first step” towards putting an end to a “disgraceful state of affairs”.

Sarah Ricca will be representing both Refuge and Liberty in the case. She said that the police had failed victims of domestic violence for too long.

She added that the case was about “strengthening police accountability in the UK, through the rights protected by the European Convention”.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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