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McGrath v Chief Constable of The Royal Ulster Constabulary

16 July 2001
The issues

Police – Claim For Unlawful Arrest – Whether A Constable Enforcing A Warrant Was Obliged To Go Behind That Warrant.

The facts

Two men were arrested in Scotland. One of them gave the police (wrongly) the Claimant’s name, address and date of birth as his own. He pleaded guilty in the Claimant’s name to a charge of theft but failed to return for sentencing.

A warrant was issued for his arrest. The Claimant was arrested under the warrant in Northern Ireland. He was taken to Scotland where it was discovered that he was not the same man who had pleaded guilty. He was released. He sued on the basis that he had been arrested wrongfully and without reasonable cause. The police argued that the arrest was lawful under Section 38 (3) Criminal Law Act 1977 which provides that a warrant for the arrest of a person charged with an offence issued in England, Wales or Scotland could be executed in Northern Ireland. The Court of Appeal found for the Claimant on the basis that he was not the person charged with the offence within that section.

The decision

1. The Order itself had not been unlawful. The case concerned a mistake of fact in the identity of the person named in the order. The only issue was whether the execution of the warrant on the person named in it amounted to an unlawful arrest.

2. A person executing a warrant was entitled to rely on the face of the warrant.

3. The warrant was lawfully and validly issued.

4. It was prima fascie a valid warrant for the arrest of the Claimant. Section 38 gave the power to execute warrants issued in one jurisdiction in another jurisdiction. If the execution was lawful in one country (as it would have been in Scotland) it was lawful in Northern Ireland.

The Constable’s duty was to execute the warrant and not to question what appeared on its face.

Appeal allowed.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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