What Constitutes Excessive Force by the Police?

What Constitutes Excessive Force by the Police?

Understanding Police Use of Force

Many people wonder, "Can the police use force against me?" The short answer is yes. However, police can only use force if there is a lawful objective in doing so. This area of law is governed by both statute law and common law (judicial rulings in different cases).

Statute Law Governing Police Force

Criminal Law Act 1967

Under the Criminal Law Act 1967, police are allowed to use force if it is:

  1. To prevent crime; or
  2. To lawfully arrest someone suspected of committing a crime.

Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)

PACE adds further conditions under which police may use reasonable force:

  1. The officer has the power under PACE;
  2. It is necessary for the officer to use force to exercise this power; and
  3. The power can be used without another person's consent.

Common Law on Police Use of Force

Case law has established that police can use force, provided it is reasonable, to:

  1. Defend themselves or someone else;
  2. Prevent crime;
  3. Carry out a lawful arrest; or
  4. Defend property.

What is Reasonable Force?

A consistent theme in the law is that any force used by the police must be reasonable. To determine this, consider:

  1. Whether the use of force is justified in the circumstances (i.e., was there a need to use force?);
  2. The amount of force used must be proportionate to the circumstances. The police should use the minimum force necessary to achieve their lawful aim.

Factors to Consider

  1. What kind of force did the police use?
  2. How much force was used?
  3. How serious was the offence the officer was trying to prevent or make an arrest for?
  4. If force was used against the officer by the person being arrested, what kind and how much?

Guides to Assessing Reasonable Force

Police officers receive extensive training on the use of force, which should make them good judges of whether force is necessary and, if so, what kind and how much. If an officer uses force unreasonably or excessively, it becomes difficult for them to justify their actions due to their training.

Officers should follow principles and guidelines such as:

  1. Common Principles for Safer Restraint;
  2. General Police Standards of Professional Behaviour; and
  3. The National Decision Model.

Police officers are trained to always respect and protect human life.

Factors for Police Officers to Consider

Every situation is unique, as are individuals. The police cannot apply the same approach to different people. Characteristics to consider include:

  1. Disability;
  2. Under 18s;
  3. Vulnerable persons (as noted by the College of Policing):
    • People who are particularly stressed;
    • People who have taken substances (drugs or alcohol); or
    • Persons of a smaller or larger build.

Common Examples of Police Use of Force

While most expect some degree of force, common forms include:

  1. Use of handcuffs (which, if used incorrectly, can amount to assault);
  2. Tasers;
  3. Firing rubber bullets;
  4. Use of firearms;
  5. Batons;
  6. Restraint techniques.

Police Responsibilities When Using Force

If a police officer uses force, they must record it. The College of Policing outlines the requirements for such records, including when force is used to:

  1. Make an arrest;
  2. Move a person;
  3. Detain a person under the Mental Health Act 1983;
  4. If the person was injured; or
  5. If the use of force resulted in actual bodily harm (ABH).

Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act incorporates rights from the European Convention on Human Rights. Relevant articles include:

  1. Article 2 - Right to Life;
  2. Article 3 - No Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
  3. Article 5 - Right to Liberty;
  4. Article 8 - Right to Privacy;
  5. Articles 10 and 11 - Right to Protest;
  6. Article 14 - Enjoy Rights without Discrimination.

Common Allegations of Excessive Force

Mistakes can happen, and we often see cases where clients feel the police have treated them unjustly. Common allegations include:

  1. No Reason to Use Force: Clients were cooperative, showed no aggressive behaviour or attempt to abscond, yet force was used (e.g., handcuffs, pushing to the ground).
  2. Excessive Use of Force: Even in chaotic situations, the force must be proportionate. Handcuffs may be understood, but if the person is cooperative and poses no threat, it can be deemed excessive.
  3. Excessive Force: Clients who felt intimidated and sought to keep their distance might still be subjected to excessive force, resulting in actual bodily harm, which is unacceptable.


Understanding what constitutes excessive force by the police is crucial for anyone who believes they have been mistreated. The law provides clear guidelines on when and how force can be used, emphasising that it must always be reasonable and proportionate. If you believe you have been a victim of excessive force, it is important to seek legal advice.

Contact Us

If you have experienced excessive force or unlawful arrest, contact Hennah Haywood Law for expert legal advice. We offer a FREE consultation to assess your case and work on a no-win, no-fee basis. Our unique partnerships allow us to provide After The Event (ATE) Insurance, ensuring you can make a claim with minimal financial worries. Get in touch today to discuss your situation and understand your rights.

Posted by Rachael
Director & Solicitor

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