If you have been a victim of defamation by the police, before taking legal action against the relevant police force, you will need to consider the following important point:
In the UK, there is a defence for action for defamation which is called “Absolute privilege”.
Absolute privilege is effectively a public policy defence which is designed to protect defamatory allegations made in certain situations, for example, statements made in court during or as part of legal proceedings; fair and accurate contemporaneous reports of such proceedings by the press and statements made, and documents created, in the course of a police criminal investigation.
However, not every document or statement which is created during a police criminal investigation is also protected by the defence of absolute privilege.
A classic example of a case where the defence did not apply was the recent case of Selvaratnam Suresh, who sued the Met Police for defamation.
Mr Suresh, who was represented by Cohen Davis Solicitors on a no win no fee basis, sued the police for defamation in relation to an email which was sent by one if its police officers.
The police initially claimed that the email was protected by the defence of absolute privilege, which provides for immunity from a defamation suit in respect of a statement which can fairly be said to be part of the process of investigating a crime.
However, whilst the defence of absolute privilege protects statements which can fairly be said to be part of the process of investigating a crime or possible crime, the email sent by the police officer to members of the public and to public officials was no such statement.
The email made inaccurate statements about the evidence against Mr Suresh, and wrongly advocated for steps to be taken against him by the Charity Commission, such as his removal from his position as a trustee. The mere fact that the police officer made reference to his investigation does not mean that the email formed part of the process.