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Civil litigation by citizens against Australian police between 1994 and 2002


This is a report on a project funded by the Criminology Research Council. The project investigates common law actions in tort in Australia brought by citizens against police and police organisations, and represents one of the first attempts to describe, understand and analyse the nature and extent of civil litigation against police in Australia. Based on interviews with key police personnel, lawyers and ombudsmen, and analysis of 16 judgements and six cases that were settled prior to trial, the report considers the reasons for the growth in civil litigation against police by citizens; settlements, police settlement policy and risk management approaches; the type of police behaviour involved and the nature of the plaintiffs' injuries; police personnel issues; apologies; limiting the risk of aggravated and exemplary damages; civil liability as a police accountability mechanism; connections between the formal complaints process and civil litigation; and litigation risk factors associated with different types of policing events, including heat of the moment policing events and public order, planned policing events. The report makes a number of recommendations, including recommendations that police organisations need to adopt a risk management approach rather than an adversarial approach in order to contain the costs of civil litigation, and that a written settlement policy should be developed that indicates the factors to be taken into account when considering settlement options.

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