On 5 August 2009, Joanna Michael dialled 999 and told the call handler that her ex-partner had threatened to kill her. The handler mis-heard her, thinking she had said ‘hit’ and when she transferred the call to Cardiff police, did not grade the call as requiring an immediate response. The police station was a five minute drive from Joanna’s house, but the police were instructed to respond within an hour; 25 minutes later, Joanna called 999 again and the operator heard her scream before the line went dead. This time the police were at her house in less than 10 minutes, sadly they found Joanna had been stabbed to death.

When what happened came to light, Joanna’s family wanted to seek justice for Joanna. The family started a legal case against the police arguing they were negligent in mis-handling Joanna’s 999 call. They also argued that the police had failed to take reasonable steps to protect Joanna’s right to life under the Human Rights Act (Article 2). Despite common assumptions, negligence rarely applies to police forces. So when the court rejected the negligence argument, the Human Rights Act provided the only chance for Joanna’s family to hold the police to account.

The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether Joanna’s family could go ahead with their Human Rights Act claim. They decided that, yes, there were circumstances where police inaction could breach the right to life. They decided there should be a trial to decide whether the police did in fact breach Joanna’s right to life by their failings. This case can now proceed.