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Fast-track justice scheme for London 2012 offenders - June-26-12
Source: The Times - Law
People who commit offences linked to the Olympics will face “instant justice” under plans to deal with troublemakers and bring them to court within 24 hours, The Times can reveal.
After the experience of the riots last summer:
•suspects will be charged within hours of an offence;
•courts across London will sit in the evenings and early mornings;
•virtual “live-link” hearings will be held so that offenders are fast-tracked through the justice system.
Offenders will also be categorised under a specially defined “Olympics offence”, based on whether the crime was committed during the Games, its location and whether the accused or victim is a competitor, spectator or official.
The unprecedented contingency plans were drawn up by the Crown Prosecution Service, along with the police, Courts Service and other criminal justice agencies such as Victim Support. It will cover London as well as other areas where events take place, including the Thames Valley and Weymouth, in Dorset.
Alison Saunders, Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, said: “Many people who come to the Olympics won’t live here, so it is important that if offences are committed, we act quickly.
“People who commit offences on Tuesday will be in court on Wednesday ... we are learning the lessons of the summer riots [when offenders were processed within days rather than the usual weeks].”
Overnight courts would take place everywhere, she added. Courts will sit extended hours where needed, from 8am to 1.30pm; then from 2.30pm to 7.30pm. “So we are really fitting in a whole extra sitting day.”
Some courts will also sit on Saturdays. Prosecutors will be on call 24 hours a day to assist with charging and virtual courts, already at Camberwell and Bromley, will be used heavily, with up to 22 planned hearings a day, to cut the movement of prisoners across the capital.
“Offenders will be ‘beamed’ into a hearing to avoid dealing with traffic disruption,” Ms Saunders said. Crimes are likely to include ticket touting, low- level street disorder, pick-pocketing and muggings. Whether crime rates rise or fall during the Games was impossible to predict, she added.
“There is no direct comparison. At the Manchester Commonwealth Games, offending levels actually fell, perhaps because people were preoccupied and also because there was a feel-good factor.”
The timescale for the Olympics offences began on May 1 and will run until September 30.
The aim is expediency and the need to fast-track defendants who may not be from Britain or London. By contrast, Trenton Oldfield, the protester who stopped the Oxford-Cambridge boat race in April, came before magistrates two weeks later and then the Crown Court, for a plea and case management hearing in May. He pleaded not guilty. A trial is not expected to begin until September.
When Olympics offenders come to court, they may also be dealt with firmly: as with the rioters, magistrates may take a dim view of behaviour intended to exploit the international audience at the venues and the millions watching on TV around the world.
Offenders will face exclusion orders and Asbos to prevent them from coming near Olympic venues.
Organised crime gangs are already reported to be transporting coach loads of Eastern European migrants, particularly Romanians, to work pre-allocated pitches as pickpockets, beggars or prostitutes. The more serious cases sent for Crown Court trial will be listed for hearing within a tight timescale of 28 days at either Snaresbrook Crown Court or Kingston Crown Court. District judges or deputy district judges will hold extended sittings in local court remand centres if workload demands it.
Of 138 courts across 11 Crown Court complexes, just over half, or 54 per cent, will be sitting during the 17 days of the Olympic Games. Many will close because of problems of traffic disruption and access.
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