The core authority in this area is Glasbrook Brothers Ltd v Glamorgan County Council  AC 270. There, Viscount Cave LC indicated that while there was an absolute and unconditional obligation on police authorities ‘to take all steps which appear necessary for keeping the peace, preventing crime, or protecting property from criminal injury’, and while ‘the public, who pay for this protection through rates and taxes, cannot lawfully be called upon to make further payment for that which is their right’, nevertheless special police services (SPS) beyond these obligations can be provided in consideration of payment.
The present statutory formulation is in section 25 of the Police Act 1996. This provides that a chief police officer ‘may provide, at the request of any person, special police services at any premises or in any locality in the police area for which the force is maintained, subject to the payment to the police authority of charges on such scales as may be determined by that authority’. But in practice, whether or not particular services are SPS is often a bone of contention.
And so it was in Leeds United FC v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police  EWCA Civ 115. There (the lead judgment in which was given by Lord Dyson MR, with which Moore-Bick and McCombe LJJ agreed) the issue was whether West Yorkshire Police was entitled to charge Leeds United (LUFC) the cost of public order policing and crowd control outside the immediate environs of the club premises at Elland Road (and on land neither owned nor controlled by the club), both before and after football matches. In the circumstances, the court found that policing this extended footprint was part of core police duties and not SPS.
At first instance, Eady J had concluded that this ‘would fall within the normal constabulary duty to keep the peace’. Furthermore, the officers ‘were not there at the club’s request, express or implied; nor was the land in question owned, leased or controlled by the club’. And ‘their presence would have benefited, not merely the club, but also other members of the public, including the unfortunate residents whose properties were sometimes vandalised’ near a particular car park. The judge had also thought that there would be ‘insuperable difficulties in seeking to sub-divide people, in public highways and other spaces, when trying to assess to whose benefit such duties were carried out’. For the police ‘are intended to keep the Queen’s peace in the interests of the general public’. He consequently concluded that the services in question could not be classified as SPS.
In Harris v Sheffield United FC Ltd  1 QB 77 (which concerned whether police services within the ground were SPS), Neill LJ had outlined four potentially relevant considerations: (1) Whether police officers are required to attend on public or private premises – prima facie their presence on private premises would constitute SPS; (2) Is there actual or imminent violence? If so, unlikely to be SPS; (3) The nature of the event and degree of public or private nature. Neill LJ considered it material whether regular staging of events would place an exceptional strain upon police resources; and (4) Whether the necessary amount of police protection can be met from existing available police resources without utilising officers engaged on other tasks or who are off duty. In these circumstances, Neill LJ considered that police attendance within the ground fell within SPS. In the instant case, the grounds of appeal included that the judge had failed to apply Neill LJ’s list of factors properly or at all.
The Court of Appeal, in first considering police services on private land, had ‘no doubt that Glasbrook remains good law’. However, the principles present difficulties in practice, particularly as to whether in different circumstances the police are discharging their public duty of preventing crime or providing a discretionary additional service. Lord Dyson regarded Neill LJ’s four factors ‘as in varying degrees useful pointers to the application of the Glasbrook principles’. The first was the most important ‘in the context of policing to maintain law and order’. Prima facie, Lord Dyson indicated, the police are obliged to maintain law and order in public places but are not usually obliged to do so on private premises in the absence of actual or immediately imminent violence.
His lordship accepted that the fact of actual or imminent violence on private premises may well indicate that the provision there of policing services is performance of the general police duty and not SPS. But attendance at private premises just in case of outbreak of violence is likely to be SPS. However, protective policing in a public place, even without any actual or imminent threat of violence, will usually be within the ordinary police public duty.
Lord Dyson made the point that football matches attended by thousands are essentially public events. And the issue of potential strain on police resources is ‘unlikely to shed much light on whether those services are SPS’. For mainstream law and order policing (for example, a large protest march) can sometimes place significant strain on such resources. As for the ‘who benefits’ test (outlined in West Yorkshire Police Authority v Reading Festival Ltd  EWCA Civ 524), this should not be determinative or even necessarily of great weight in all cases. For ‘there is a real public interest in the police maintaining law and order’. In summary, ‘the provision of policing services at football matches on private land at the request of a football club will usually be SPS except where the police are summoned to deal with actual or imminent violence’.
As to policing on public land, the Court of Appeal applied similar principles. Prima facie, in a public (as opposed to a private) location, both the provision of policing in response to an actual or imminent emergency and policing to protect against the possibility of disorder are likely to fall within the general police duty to maintain law and order. Lord Dyson said that the most important duty of the police is to maintain law and order and protect life and property. And if ‘the police consider that the discharge of that duty requires the provision of policing in a public place, it is difficult to see why that is not the end of the enquiry’. He nevertheless indicated that the provision of other policing services in public places raises different considerations. Since the Court of Appeal therefore found that policing the extended footprint on match days is provided to maintain law and order, and protect life and property in a public place, the appeal by West Yorkshire Police was dismissed.
Leeds United usefully rehearses the key legal principles in this context and the weight likely to be appropriate in different cases. The decision therefore gives a good steer on how the law should be applied. However, given public financial stringency, contextualising the law to applicable facts in future cases will require a carefully nuanced approach. And with continued pressure on straitened police budgets, further legal disputes cannot be ruled out.
This year’s 54th Annual Weekend School (held at the University of Warwick from 21 to 24 March 2013) saw the birth of a new organisation – Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), as Solicitors in Local Government (SLG) and its chief officer counterpart, ACSeS (the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors), finally joined together to become one body. This means that local government lawyers at all levels now have a strong and unified national voice to represent their interests.
Take a look at the new LLG website (portal version, the complete site is being built).
Dr Nicholas Dobson is a lawyer specialising in local authority law and governance