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R (on the application of Karen Ann Manser) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis

The claimant sought to challenge a caution administered to her by the police on 15 July 2014 for assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Executive summary

The claimant sought to challenge a caution administered to her by the police on 15 July 2014 for assault occasioning actual bodily harm (“ABH”). She alleged that the police had failed to make adequate and accurate disclosure of the medical evidence relating to the seriousness of the victim’s injuries prior to her acceptance of the caution and that this made it unlawful. It was found that the caution had been administered lawfully by the police and the claim was dismissed.

Background

The claimant was assaulted by another female and a male in the queue at a McDonald’s restaurant in the early hours of 26 May 2014. Security guards broke up the fight and the claimant left the restaurant. However, after a few minutes, she walked back in and kicked the other female in the face. 

She was asked to attend Charing Cross police station to give a statement, which she did voluntarily. Shortly after arrival, she was arrested by PC Raichura for ABH and interviewed.  

She claimed, based on the disclosure provided by the police, that she believed she had caused serious injuries and would go to prison if convicted of the offence. As a result, she accepted the caution, not because she admitted any guilt.

The claimant had been provided with Form MG6A stating the other female had split her lip, lost her front tooth and broken her nose.  The split lip and lost tooth were stated accurately. The real issue was the description of the broken nose. The police doctor recorded “nose swollen, tender but not deviated, bilat (bilateral) (v bloody) nostril.” But PC Raichura recorded that “[the doctor] has stated that she has a suspected broken nose…”

The court found PC Raicura’s description was inaccurate. The question was whether that single inaccuracy (describing a broken nose rather than a suspected broken nose) amounted to a clear breach of Ministry of Justice guidance (“the guidance”). 

The court concluded that when the injuries were considered as a whole, there had been no actionable breach of the guidance. The police were not obliged to disclose the doctor’s notes and there was no evidence that they appreciated that the doctor’s evidence only justified a statement that she had sustained a suspected rather than actual broken nose.

The relevant section of the guidance states:

A simple caution can only be given where the offender agrees to accept it.  He or she should not be induced to accept a simple caution in any way and must not be pressed to make an instant decision on whether to accept a simple caution.  They should be allowed to consider the matter and if need be, take independent legal advice…….……offenders and their legal representatives are entitled to seek and have disclosure of the evidence before the offender agrees to accept a simple caution.  

The claimant had admitted returning to the scene and kicking the other female. The injuries amounted to ABH and the claimant could not have raised self-defence if the matter had gone to trial. She had the benefit of legal advice and had ample time to consider whether to accept the caution whilst the fact that she thought that if she did not accept the caution she might be charged with grievous bodily harm did not amount to an inducement to accept the caution. A caution could be offered for a lesser offence even if the police were considering prosecuting for a more serious offence and the claimant had accepted a caution for ABH which was the least penalty that she could have received for the offence. In circumstances where the claimant had made admissions constituting the offence in question, this was not an exceptional case in which the court should exercise its jurisdiction to quash the caution. 

Comment

The court has jurisdiction to quash a caution but only in an exceptional case where a caution is administered in clear breach of the guidance. It should be rare that a person who has accepted a caution will succeed in showing the decision was fatally flawed. Furthermore, even where there has been a clear breach of the guidance, the court retains discretion not to interfere.

It is established law that police officers responsible for applying the guidelines must enjoy a wide margin of appreciation regarding the nature of the case and whether the pre-conditions for a caution are satisfied. In this case, it was found that there had been no breach of guidance despite the technical inaccuracy in the description of the injuries.