R v Waterfield

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R. v. Waterfield
Court Court of Criminal Appeal
Decided 17 October 1963
Citation(s) [1964] 1 Q.B. 164; [1963] 3 W.L.R. 946; [1963] 3 All E.R. 659; (1964) 48 Cr. App. R. 42; (1964) 128 J.P. 48; (1963) 107 S.J. 833
Cases cited None
Legislation cited Metropolitan Police Act 1839 s. 66;
Offences against the Person Act 1861 s. 38;
Road Traffic Act 1960 s. 2;
Road Traffic Act 1960 s. 223
Case history
Prior action(s) None
Subsequent action(s) None
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Lord Parker CJ, Ashworth and Hinchcliffe JJ.
Assault; Cars; Police officers; Police powers; Search and seizure

R v Waterfield [1963] 3 All E.R. 659 is a leading English Court of Appeal decision establishing the common law authority of a police officer to stop and detain individuals.

This case produced what is known as the waterfield test (also called the common law "ancillary power doctrine") to determine the limit of police authority to interfere with a person's liberty or property.


The police were investigating a reported incident of dangerous driving, where a car had rammed into a wall. It turned out that the car was owned by Eli Waterfield and driven by his friend, Geoffrey Lynn, but police were unable to make any arrests without further evidence.

One evening, while Lynn sat in the car parked at the local market, two police officers approached him to ask to search his car. Lynn threatened to leave but one of the officers said he would stop him if he tried. Waterfield arrived, told the police that they had no right to impound his car and told Lynn to drive away. The officers blocked Lynn's way, but Waterfield told Lynn to drive through the officers. Lynn drove forward, forcing the officer to jump out of the way.

Waterfield and Lynn were charged for assaulting a constable who was in the execution of his duty contrary to the Offences against the Person Act, 1861.

Opinion of Court[edit]

Ashworth J., for the Court, held that the charge of assault was invalid and quashed the convictions of Waterfield and Lynn. To come to this conclusion, Ashworth made an important analysis of the requirements needed to show that a police officer was in the execution of his duties.

In most cases it is probably more convenient to consider what the police constable was actually doing and in particular whether such conduct was prima facie an unlawful interference with a person's liberty or property. If so, it is then relevant to consider whether (a) such conduct falls within the general scope of any duty imposed by statute or recognized at common law and (b) whether such conduct, albeit within the general scope of such a duty, involved an unjustifiable use of powers associated with the duty. Thus, while it is no doubt right to say in general terms that police constables have a duty to prevent crime and a duty, when crime is committed, to bring the offender to justice, it is also clear from the decided cases that when the execution of these general duties involves interference with the person or property of a private person, the powers of constables are not unlimited.

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