In the Media

Olympics may disrupt criminal justice system, officials warn

PUBLISHED December 15, 2011

Police and courts service negotiate contigency plans for period when transport and security resources are focused on games

Courts may be forced to close for weeks and cases could be severely delayed during the Olympics next summer because of transport disruption and the need to free police for security duties.

Negotiations between the Association of Chief Police Officers and the courts service have begun with the aim of assessing the impact of the Games on the capital and other parts of the country.

A source has revealed to the Guardian that some judges have been asked to take their holidays during the period of maximum disturbance, which, including the run-up, could last as long as six weeks.

Contingency plans being prepared suggest that officials envisage the knock-on effects of the Olympics could produce more disruption than popularly anticipated.

As well as the main stadiums around Stratford, east London, the Games ? running from 27 July to 12 August ? will be spread around the country. Sailing competitions are being held in Weymouth, rowing in Buckinghamshire, canoeing in Hertfordshire and mountain biking in Essex. Football matches will be held in Cardiff, Coventry, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle as well as London.

Severe traffic disruption is expected in the capital, where priority Games lanes will be created temporarily along already busy routes.

The courts service confirmed that it was in the process of developing its plans. "We are examining how the likely travel disruption might affect court users getting to and from courts," a spokesperson explained. "There is an expectation that the courts in central London will need to reduce normal court business during the Games, but how many fewer courtrooms will operate and details of any necessary courthouse closures has yet to be determined.

"If a decision is made to reduce hearings we will ensure that rescheduled cases will be dealt with quickly. All urgent cases will be dealt with as normal.Asked whether judges had been asked to ensure that their holidays coincided with likely court closures, the Judicial Office said: "Once plans have been decided in relation to court business, we will consider how best to deploy judicial resources as required."

Reducing the number of police officers due to give evidence in court over the period of the Games is one of the main aims. A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "We continue to work with HM Courts and Trubunals Service to understand the impacts of the Games on the criminal justice system.

"Among other issues, this includes considering the pressures on police resources and the need to reduce abstractions from duty where possible and where appropriate. No final guidance has been issued to the police service on this matter.

We are committed to delivering a safe Games, while minimising disruption to the criminal justice system wherever possible."

The police says that security around the Olympics is the largest challenge they have faced. The National Policing Improvement Agency has cancelled all its training for the duration of the Olympics.

The Metropolitan police have set a guideline of reducing annual leave during the period of the Olympics from what would normally be 30% of the force to 7%. That has now been adopted as a national guideline for police forces.

The official Olympic Planning Information for Businesses leaflet advises: "Millions of additional trips are expected on public transport and the road network in London and the UK during the summer of 2012. This could potentially disrupt your employees' journeys, business travel, deliveries and collections, and the operations of suppliers, other contractors and freight. To keep your business running, you should aim to reduce the need to travel, and make essential journeys at less busy times, or by using different modes or routes."

The courts service says that it always considers arrangements when major public events take place. During the last World Cup some court cases were rescheduled to start early and finish early when key matches were son to encourage jurors to turn up.

John Cooper QC, a criminal barrister, said: "I realise the Olympics will provide great deal of pleasure to many people, but the consequences of that will presumably be a six-week meltdown for criminal justice processes. The courts in London will simply not be able to do business. Not only will defendants potentially be remanded in custody [for longer], there may alternatively be pressure for others to be released pending trial. Vulnerable complainants will have to wait longer to give traumatic evidence, which cannot be good for the overall administration of justice." As well as preparing for a probable judicial slow-down, the police and courts may also need to plan for possible major riots or public disorders around the Olympics. The lessons - of late night courts and weekend sittings - learnt from processing large numbers in the immediate aftermath of last summer's riots are still fresh in lawyers'minds. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds