Mrs Robinson was in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time in 2008 when shopping in Huddersfield. She found herself caught up in a police arrest of a suspected drug dealer. Sadly for her, the suspect resisted arrest and she was not only knocked over, but ended up underneath the 3 men when they fell to the ground.
As a frail 76 year old she was understandably injured by her ordeal.
The question that came before the Supreme Court in February 2018 was whether the police were liable to pay her damages as a result of this incident.
On the face of it a straightforward question; if someone behaved as the police did, a claimant would have a claim in negligence. However, the police were acting in the course of their duties, apprehending a criminal. Should this entitle them, as a matter of public policy, to immunity?
The outcome of this case had the potential to affect many other areas of law particularly concerning the liability of public authorities.
The Supreme Court however, unanimously held that the police were liable for the injuries caused to the Claimant. The police owed the normal duty of care, under the ordinary principles of negligence, i.e. a duty to avoid causing foreseeable personal injury to another person.
The Supreme Court did however clarify, that this only applies to positive acts. The principle that public authorities, private individuals and bodies are generally under no duty of care to prevent the occurrence of harm was reaffirmed.
This is the so called 'omissions principle'. The Court was at pains to highlight the difference between this case (where the Claimant's injuries were caused by a positive act by the police officers) as opposed to a claim for injury following a failure in the duty to protect her. The law in this area remains the same.
The requirements for establishing the a duty of care on the police remains stringent and will only apply in special circumstances - such as in Mrs Robinson's case where the police had created a situation which was dangerous to members of the public.
Thankfully, these circumstances will not arise very often, but this case confirms that if innocent members of the public are caught in the cross-fire and are injured by the unintentional but negligent positive actions of a police officer they will be able to claim compensation.
This is a good example of the Supreme Court treading a fine "blue" line. In reaching their judgment, the judges have balanced two potentially conflicting issues - recognising the potential harm caused by the police to members of the public caught in the cross-fire, versus the harm caused to society by limiting the police in the general performance of their duties.