The US Supreme Court ruled in Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales and DeShaney v. Winnebago County that the police could not be sued for failing to protect citizens, as no such constitutional obligation exists on their part. This has been used by gun advocates as an argument for expanding the right to own guns in the US.

On the other hand authorities in countries such as Japan or the UK frequently claim that citizens have no reason to own guns for self-defence, as they could always call the police for help instead. But could the police actually be sued in those countries for failing to carry out their responsibilities? If not, what reasons have been given for simultaneously preventing citizens from protecting themselves and failing to redress situations where the police fails to protect individuals?

  • 3
    Hmmmm. I mean, Japan and the UK have fairly different legal codes from the US.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 17, 2019 at 1:51

2 Answers 2


Broadly speaking no. In most legal systems governments (and those acting as agents of the government) are protected by a doctrine known as "Sovereign Immunity". Basically the government can't be sued unless they agree to be allowed to be sued (normally by a law that permits the government to be sued or via a contract).

In most places the police can't be sued because they are protected as agents of the government as long as they are carrying out government policy. The legal system of the more restrictive gun law countries would most likely state that the proper response to feeling that the police are inadequate is through political action such as voting.

In addition many countries such as New Zealand and the UK have compensation systems for the victims of crime. Which would further undermine any claims for compensation for police inaction.

  • Could you expand on the part about compensation for victims of crime? This could answer the conundrum presented in my post. Mar 17, 2019 at 13:37
  • @JonathanReez - UK Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority: gov.uk/government/organisations/… Mar 17, 2019 at 20:07

Yes, in theory if not in practice, if that country allows for the exception to the Police Sovereign Immunity law that every developed nation has in place such as the United States does. The US has the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) that allows federal Police to be sued under certain very narrow circumstances that have proven to be burdensome, to say the least, for anyone who has actually tried to sue the Police with any success. Many U.S. states have similar such exceptions that cover local Police departments, however the actual use of such laws to protect individuals suffers from the same problems as the Federal exemption does in that it focuses the burden of proof to be based on very narrow precedent. It's called Qualified Immunity In other words you have to show the court that a case has been decided previously that shows that the very same police actions that occurred in your case where found to be unlawful.

"Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, public officials are held to a much lower standard. They can be held accountable only insofar as they violate rights that are “clearly established” in light of existing case law. "

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    The question specifically is not about the US.
    – gktscrk
    Aug 13, 2020 at 4:25
  • My answer simply uses US laws as an example of what exemptions to Sovereign Immunity exist and such use in the broader context of answering the question with respect to other countries does not disqualify the answer.
    – Vinmann
    Aug 13, 2020 at 8:36

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