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What Duty of Care Do Police Owe to the Public?

Connor Boccalatte
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04 July 2024

In the matter of Cullen v State of New South Wales [2023] NSWSC 653 the plaintiff was a women who was attending an Invasion Day rally in Sydney in January 2017.  Whilst the rally was proceeding through the Sydney CBD, one of the protestors gathered a crowd around him and made a speech which included a statement that he would burn the Australian flag.

After the protestor doused a small flag with accelerant, members of the New South Wales Police Operations Support Group (“OSG”) rushed through the crowd with extinguishers whilst another New South Wales police officer filmed the surrounding events with a small handheld video recorder.

Another spectator deliberately knocked the video camera out of the officer’s hand resulting in another New South Wales police officer rushing forward to apprehend him.

As a result of the physical contact between the two, they knocked over the plaintiff, causing her to strike her head on the ground and suffer significant injury.

A liability only trial ensued, with the parties having previously agreed the amount of the claim, in the sum of $800,000.00.


The Court found in favour of the plaintiff in the agreed sum of $800,000.00, as follows: -

It was reasonably foreseeable that the actions of the police in rushing into the crowd without warning, bearing at least two fire extinguishers, when considering the chaos and panic that was likely to arise in conjunction with the discharging of the fire extinguishers, would create a risk of injury to the crowd.

As such, a duty of care was owed by the police to the public, including bystanders like the plaintiff who were present at the rally.

The attending police force as a public authority were exercising a special statutory power and acted recklessly or unreasonably, establishing a breach of both section 5B and section 43A of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) (“CLA”).

The Court found that the actions of the police created a “domino effect” resulting in injury to the plaintiff and as such, but for the actions of the police, the plaintiff would not have been injured.

In the event that the injuries to the plaintiff were not caused by the negligent actions of the officers, the physical arrest of the protestor responsible for hitting the police officer’s video camera was lawful.

However, the Court noted that this did not diminish that the arresting police owed the plaintiff a duty of care when arresting another protestor, given she was a member of the crowd standing in close proximity to him and as the arrest was carried out negligently, responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries flowed from it.


It must be noted that the plaintiff was successful as she was not committing an offence and was simply a participant in a lawful protest.

If you are lawfully arrested due to committing an offence, then you are not likely to be able to make a claim for compensation. There are very limited circumstances where an injured person may be compensated as a result of being arrested.


The Compensation Team at Wallace & Wallace Lawyers are experienced in all aspects of Compensation Law. If you have been injured due to the negligence of another person, you may be entitled to compensation. 

We can assist you to determine if you are entitled to a claim for compensation. If you are dissatisfied with your current representation, our experts can also offer a second opinion.

If you, or someone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, at work, or due to someone else’s fault, or you want a second opinion, call us now on (07) 4963 2000 or contact us via our online contact form for practical legal advice on how you should proceed.