Advanced Search

PDF Information

In order to open PDF documents you need to have Adobe Reader installed on your computer. The majority of computers have this software but if not you can download Adobe Reader free of charge.

Get Adobe Reader

Heroic Acts by Police Officers and Firefighters

Principle

The CPS recognises that, in performing a heroic act, a police officer or fire-fighter may breach section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974 (HSWA), in that they failed to take reasonable care of their own safety.

In those circumstances, and where the safety of others is not put at risk, public interest would not be served by taking forward a prosecution under section 7 of the 1974 Act.

Background

Police officers and fire-fighters are employees and are subject to the duty under section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA). This provides that it is "the duty of every employee to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons, who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work."

In the course of their duty, police officers and fire-fighters may be presented with situations in which they have to consider acting in a way, which puts their safety at real risk. Examples of this could be to save or prevent the potential loss of life or to perform their duty to prevent crime or arrest a suspected offender.

The extent of that risk will vary but in some situations the individual may decide to act in a way which puts their safety at significant risk in order to perform their duty. Although it is very unlikely that an officer would be investigated in such circumstances, prosecutors may be asked by investigators to consider whether such a "heroic act" such as this should be subject to prosecution under section 7 HSWA if a case is referred to them by investigators.

Each case must be considered on its own merits and prosecutors will apply the Full Code Test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, and they should also apply the following considerations.

Top of page

Evidence

Unlike in other health and safety offences, there is no issue of "reasonable practicability", and no reverse burden of proof under section 40 Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) in respect of section 7 HSWA offences.

The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the acts of the individual were such they amount to the person not taking "reasonable care" for the health and safety of himself or others. In the exceptional circumstances under consideration, a police officer or fire-fighter may act in a way that shows a considerable disregard for their own safety.

However, this will not in itself mean that the individual has not taken reasonable care for their safety as what is reasonable will depend on all the circumstances including why the individual acted in the way that they did.

Decisions to act in such a way are likely to be taken in fast moving and dynamic situations. In circumstances in which a police officer or fire-fighter acts in such a heroic way, it is very unlikely that a jury would find that such actions were not "reasonable".

Public Interest

Where the evidential stage of the Code Test has been met, prosecutors must go on to consider whether it is in the public interest to prosecute. In rare cases where an heroic act has been performed, it is very difficult to envisage circumstances in which the public interest would be served by the prosecution of a police officer or a fire-fighter who puts their own safety only at risk and breaches section 7 of the HSAW Act, while carrying out a heroic act.

Referral

All cases must be referred to the Principal Legal Advisor for a decision.

Top of page