Vellino v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester is a landmark case in English tort law, which established that police officers owe a duty of care to road users when engaged in a high-speed pursuit. The case was heard in the House of Lords, which is now the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, in 2002.
The case arose out of a high-speed police chase that took place in Manchester in 1997. The police were pursuing a stolen car, which was being driven at high speeds through residential streets. During the pursuit, the stolen car collided with another vehicle, killing the driver, Mr. Vellino, and injuring his passenger.
Mr. Vellino’s widow brought a claim against the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, alleging that the police officers involved in the pursuit had been negligent and had caused her husband’s death. The Chief Constable argued that the police officers had not breached their duty of care to Mr. Vellino, as they had been pursuing a dangerous criminal and had acted reasonably in the circumstances.
The case was initially heard in the Manchester County Court, where the judge held that the police officers had not breached their duty of care to Mr. Vellino. However, the Court of Appeal overturned this decision, finding that the police officers had been negligent and had breached their duty of care to road users.
The case was then appealed to the House of Lords, which considered whether police officers owe a duty of care to road users when engaged in a high-speed pursuit. The House of Lords held that police officers do owe a duty of care to road users in such circumstances, and that this duty of care is owed both to the public at large and to individual road users.
The House of Lords recognized that police officers engaged in high-speed pursuits face difficult and dangerous decisions, and that they must balance the need to apprehend dangerous criminals with the need to protect the public from harm. However, the House of Lords held that this did not absolve the police officers of their duty of care to road users.
The House of Lords held that the duty of care owed by police officers in high-speed pursuits is similar to the duty of care owed by any driver on the road. Police officers must take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to road users, and they must weigh the risks and benefits of their actions in each case. If a police officer breaches this duty of care and causes harm to a road user, they may be liable for damages.
The House of Lords also considered the issue of causation in the case. The Chief Constable argued that the collision between the stolen car and Mr. Vellino’s vehicle had been caused by the criminal driving the stolen car, rather than by the police pursuit. The House of Lords rejected this argument, holding that the police pursuit had been a material cause of the collision, and that the Chief Constable was therefore liable for Mr. Vellino’s death.
The decision in Vellino v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester has had a significant impact on the law relating to police pursuits in England and Wales. It has clarified the duty of care owed by police officers to road users, and has established that police officers can be held liable for damages if they breach this duty of care and cause harm to a road user.
The case has also prompted a review of police pursuit policies and procedures, with many police forces introducing new guidelines and training programs to ensure that their officers are aware of their duty of care to road users. The case has helped to promote greater accountability and transparency in police pursuits, and has highlighted the importance of balancing the need for law enforcement with the need to protect public safety.