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Hallett v Devon County Council, Leeds County Court

21 May 2002
The issues

Striking out – limitation – Ex Turpi Causa

The facts

This was an unusual claim. The Claimant sued Devon County Council for negligence. He had been sentenced to prison in 1986 for robbery and rape. Whilst in prison, a Probation Officer visited him regularly. When he was released in 1993, he discovered where she was living, visited her, raped her and murdered her. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by Mr Justice Butterfield. His allegations centred on the fact that the Probation Service had failed to provide proper therapy for him in prison through the person of his Probation Officer who had allegedly formed an improperly close relationship with him. The case was struck out by the District Judge. The Claimant appealed to the Judge (in the process securing an Order from the Divisional Court that the Governor of Wakefield Jail should permit him to attend Court for the purposes of furthering his action – in the end it was unnecessary in that the Judge sat in Wakefield Jail to hear the Appeal). The District Judge had struck out the claim on the grounds that the Statement of Case showed no reasonable grounds for bringing the claim and was an abuse of the Court’s process. The Defendant relied both on limitation and on the rule of Public Policy that a Claimant should not be allowed to claim on the basis of his own criminal or immoral act.

The decision

1. The Claimant had not pointed to any specific psychological injury which could sound in damages. He had said no more than that he suffered from a personality disorder.

2. The Claimant was seeking to blame the Defendant Probation Service – the psychological harm on which he sought to rely was the very same by which his Psychiatrist explained his ultimate actions. It was a clear rule of Public Policy that a person could not found a Civil action on his own criminal acts.

3. The District Judge had not dealt with limitation. The Judge found that the Claimant would have considerable difficulties in establishing a date of knowledge later than 1993. “In view of the fact that he had murdered the main witness for the Defence, I cannot see any Court exercising its discretion to over-ride the limitation period pursuant to Section 33 of that Act”.

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