Rules of procedure should not be rigidly enforced – Supreme Court

courtofsessionRuddy v Chief Constable, Strathclyde Police & Anor [2012] UKSC 57 – read judgment

The Supreme Court has ruled that an individual who claimed to have been assaulted by police officers was entitled to bring an action in the sheriff court (Scotland) seeking  damages at common law and under the Human Rights Act 1998 against the relevant chief constable arising from the officer’s actions.

He was also able to claim damages under the 1998 Act against the chief constable and the Lord Advocate in connection with an allegedly ineffective investigation into the incident.

The following is based on the Supreme Court’s press summary. References in square brackets are to paragraphs in the judgment.

Background facts

The appellant was arrested in September 2004 and taken to a police station in Glasgow. He alleged that he was abused and threatened with violence by the Strathclyde police officers during and after the journey. In 2005 the Procurator Fiscal instructed the Complaints Branch to carry out an investigation into the complaint. In June 2005 she informed the appellant that she was satisfied that the available evidence did not justify criminal proceedings against any police officer. The Complaints Board also concluded that it was unnecessary to take any proceedings for misconduct against the police officers involved.

The appellant raised an action in the Glasgow Sheriff Court. He claimed alleged assault against the Chief Constable, seeking damages at common law and under section 8(3) of the Human Rights Act 1998 for breach of the substantive obligation on states under Article 3 of the Convention to prevent inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The appellant also sought damages under the same section of the HRA and section 100(3) of the Scotland Act against the Chief Constable and Lord Advocate for this breach.

The Inner House of the Court of Session dismissed the action as incompetent. The appellant appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that it had been competent for him to bring his two Article 3 claims, or either of them; and that he had also been entitled to raise the first claim (of assault) against the Chief Constable and the second claim (breach of the investigative obligation) against the Chief Constable and Lord Advocate together in the same action.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the appeal and returned the case to the Inner House for a hearing of the appeal against the decision of the lower court.

The Supreme Court’s reasoning

Whilst the Supreme Court is always reluctant to interfere with the judgment of the Inner House, its objections to the competency of the two Article 3 claims were unsound in principle. The appellant was not seeking an exercise of the supervisory jurisdiction of the Court of Session in order to have decisions of the Chief Constable or the Lord Advocate reviewed or set aside. His case in relation to both Article 3 claims was based on allegations of acts or omissions. He was not in other words seeking to have them corrected in order to provide a foundation for his claims. He was instead seeking just satisfaction for the fact that, as he argued, his Convention rights had been breached. The claims were in essence simply those of damages. Judicial review for their determination would have been inept; the essence of his claim was simply one of damages, and judicial review was inappropriate [15 and 18-21]

Nor had his action offended the well-established principle that one pursuer cannot sue two or more defenders for separate causes of action. It was clear that the wrongs which were the subject of the appellant’s claims were separate and were committed at different times by different people. But the appellant was not asking for a decree for the respondents to be found liable in a single lump sum. The objection to the competency of the action was therefore misconceived. [22 and 24 - 25]

It is possible to imagine cases where an objection to competency could be taken on the ground that the pleadings defeat the ends of avoiding undue complexity and keeping good order in litigation. The guiding principle when such an objection is taken is whether the way the action is framed is likely to lead to manifest inconvenience and injustice.  There was no absolute rule one way or the other, so long as the rule which said that it was incompetent for a pursuer to ask for a decree in a lump sum for separate wrongs was not broken. Rules of procedure should, after all, be servants, not masters, in matters of this kind. . In this case the appellant’s two claims, though separate, were interconnected in law and fact, and it would be in the interests of justice and more convenient for them not to be separated. The pleadings were not complex and good order in litigation favours the two claims being heard together. The objection to the competency of the action on this basis was also misconceived. [27-28 and 32 - 33]
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