The Olympics arrive next year and the eyes of the world will be on the UK and everything that goes on here. This includes the Criminal Justice System. Committees have been set up to plan for the administration of Criminal Justice during the Olympic period dealing with a wide range of logistical issues. These include the police and their deployment, the courts, transport disruption, the prosecution, interpreters, video links, court sitting, witness availability.
When pitching for the Olympics, London had to give assurances regarding the swift and fair disposal of justice.
Imagine this scenario. You are at the Magistrates Court. There are a large number of nonUK domiciled defendants charged with public order offences which they contest. They are here on short vacations to see the Olympics. They all have jobs in their own country, bank accounts there, mortgages there etc. None of them speak English, interpreters are required, they are all on bail and to get legal aid granted you have to complete the application form with the aid of the interpreter and then get all of the supporting documentation from overseas, possibly requiring authorities in the foreign language, documents translated etc. It could take days/weeks to obtain the documentation. You may have to contact a number of different people/ bodies to locate a the material; you will not be paid for the work and the court want the trial prepared and conducted within 4 weeks
The LCCSA have representatives on both the Olympic Planning Group chaired by the Recorder of Redbridge and under the auspices of the Senior Presiding Judge of England and Wales and also on the Olympic Working group. The LCCSA have made a number of representations on behalf of the defence and, on behalf of the Olympic Planning Group, wrote to the Ministry of Justice suggesting that means-testing be suspended for all defendants charged with offences arising out of the Olympics. They argued that this would in fact save public time and expense and help with the overall aim, dealing with cases swiftly and fairly.
The MOJ responded and in summary stated as follows:
- There is no plan to relax any aspect of the means test during the Olympics
- Whilst during the August riots some short term flexibility was allowed in the processing of the means assessment for defendants arrested in relation to civil unrest this does not create a similar precedent for adopting a similar approach in the Olympics.
- Whilst it is accepted that the Olympics will attract a considerable number of foreign visitors, London has always been a pre-eminent destination for tourists. Recently the Royal wedding generated a significant influx of overseas visitors without creating any disproportionate pressure on the Criminal Justice System.
The Olympic effect will be felt far beyond the actual period of the games. There will be huge pressure on all our infrastructures. There will be additional pressure on court staff and the agencies involved in Criminal Justice. The Olympic planning group are in support of making provision for this problem in advance. Surely the MOJ response is short sighted and in fact represents a false economy. Unrepresented defendants conducting their trials through interpreters will take up huge amounts of court time without the benefit of representation to narrow and agree issues in accordance with the Criminal Procedural Rules. Cases may be delayed. The new initiative STOP DELAYING JUSTICE which begins in January 2012 in the Magistrates Court may have a different name and reputation across the world by the end of the summer next year if the MOJ do not review their policy. Suspending means may be a step too far politically but they could relax rules on the requirement of documentary evidence in means cases. This would assist the smooth running of these cases at a time when there is a huge need to show we have a fair, swift and efficient justice system.