Newsletters Sports Law 16th Apr 2018

Special Police Services and the Tractor Boys

The thorny issue of special police services (‘SPS’) continues to trouble the higher courts. Late last year, in Ipswich Town FC v The Chief Constable of Suffolk Constabulary [2017] EWCA Civ 1484, Ipswich were the latest in a succession of football clubs to challenge the police’s approach, this time with the Football League wading in as well. The subject is likely to remain high on practitioners’ radars, and a stock take is therefore worthwhile.

The issue is this: where resources are provided to police a sporting event, what can a police force charge for under section 25 of the Police Act 1996 as constituting SPS?

In allowing Ipswich Town’s appeal, the Court of Appeal found the case to be indistinguishable from Leeds United FC v The Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [2013] EWCA Civ 115. In both cases the matter under appeal was police services provided around the stadium on match days, on public land adjacent to that owned, and closely controlled, by the club. As in Leeds United, the Court of Appeal again found that services provided in such circumstances were not SPS.

The central principles re-emphasised in Ipswich Town are as follows:

  1. The most important factor is whether the services are provided on public or private land. Although not dispositive, this factor is “of critical importance”.
  2. A connected factor is whether the police are attending in response to an imminent emergency. This is a situation where even if the services are provided on private land they are likely to be operational, and not SPS.
  3. Where the event policed is a public event, it is less likely that the services provided will be SPS.
  4. Control over public land which does not arise from a proprietary interest is not a relevant factor in determining whether services provided on that land are SPS.

This was a fairly uncontroversial restatement of the law. In the case of football matches, and, one would expect, all sporting events, what constitutes SPS is almost certainly now going to be determined by whether the services are provided on public or private land. That is an important principle, not just for organisations looking to challenge previous agreements with the police, but also for those applying for event licenses, Safety Certificates under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, and other similar local government permissions. Such applications will often necessitate a memorandum of understanding, or statement of intent, with the local police force.

Further developments need to be closely monitored. Both Gloster LJ and Gross LJ emphasised the arguable case for reform, quoting Scott Baker LJ in West Yorkshire Police Authority v Reading Festival Ltd [2006] 1 WLR 2005:

“There is a strong argument that where promoters put on a function such as a music festival or sporting event which is attended by large numbers of the public the police should be able to recover the additional cost they are put to for policing the event and the local community affected by it. This seems only just where the event is run for profit. That however is not the law”.

 This is not a straightforward issue. Events are not cheap. Sports clubs and other event organisers face an increasingly difficult battle to provide a service for the public good while making a profit. They will no doubt hope these comments are met with the same parliamentary silence as in 2006.

Lewis MacDonald

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