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

PC Laurent was the sole police officer stationed on the island of Jost Van Dyke,a small island with a population of about 135 people in the British Virgin Islands. Laurent was still on probation and was subject to daily supervisory visits by a police sergeant from a nearby larger island. As the sole officer, PC Laurent had a key to the police station's strongbox which contained a gun. One night he took the gun and went to a restaurant where his wife was associating with another man (the Claimant). He then fired four shots injuring the two in addition to a tourist in the restaurant. The claimant brought an action against the police for allowing a probationary officer to have access to a gun.


Held:

A duty of care is owed by the police authorities in entrusting officers with guns.


Lord Nicholls:
"In the view of their Lordships the appropriate analysis is that when entrusting a police officer with a gun the police authorities owe to the public at large a duty to take reasonable care to see the officer is a suitable person to be entrusted with such a dangerous weapon lest by any misuse of it he inflicts personal injury, whether accidentally or intentionally, on other persons. For this purpose no distinction is to be drawn between personal injuries inflicted in the course of police duties and personal injuries inflicted by a police officer using a police gun for his own ends. If this duty seems far-reaching in its scope it must be remembered that guns are dangerous weapons. The wide reach of the duty is proportionate to the gravity of the risks."
 
Back to lecture outline on policy factors in duty of care