Attorney General v Hartwell

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07/03/18 Cases Reference this

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Attorney General v Hartwell (British Virgin Islands) [2004] 1 WLR 1273;

[2004] UKPC 12; [2004] PIQR P27; [2004] Po LR 141; [2004] Inquest LR 89; (2004) 101(12) LSG 37; (2004) 148 SJLB 267

NEGLIGENCE, DUTY OF CARE, POLICE DUTIES, BREACH OF DUTY,

ACCESS TO A GUN, UNLAWFUL USE OF GUN,

UNSUITABLE PERSON ENTRUSTED WITH A GUN

Facts

L, a British Virgin Islands policeman, abandoned his post and travelled to another island. He went into a bar, where his former partner worked as a waitress, and opened fire with a police service revolver. The plaintiff, Hartwell, was a British tourist who was at the bar and was shot and wounded by the policeman. L pleaded guilty to the charges of unlawful and malicious wounding and having a firearm with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Hartwell brought civil proceedings against L and the Attorney General of the British Virgin Islands as a representative of its government. The court held in favour of the plaintiff. The Attorney General appealed to the Privy Council submitting that the government owed no duty of care to the plaintiff in respect of the persons to whom the police entrusted firearms as there was no sufficiently proximate relationship between the police and Hartwell.

Issue

When entrusting an officer with a firearm, do the police owe a duty to take reasonable care to see that the officer was a suitable person to be entrusted with a dangerous weapon?

Held

The appeal was dismissed.

(1) Referring to Home Office v Dorset Yacht Co Ltd [1970] AC 1004, the police owe a duty of care to the public at large to take reasonable care to see that police officers to whom they entrusted weapons were suitable. The wide reach of the duty is proportionate to the gravity of the risk.

(2) The police was negligent in permitting L to have access to a revolver, given that they knew or ought to have known that he was not a fit and proper person to be entrusted with a gun because, until his domestic problems were resolved, he was volatile and unstable. The standard of diligence expected of a reasonable person when entrusting another with a firearm was high. The police are therefore, liable in negligence.

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