Sports lawyers are in demand this summer with London hosting the Olympic Games. Yesterday’s High Court ruling in Leeds United FC v West Yorkshire Police over who should pick up the tab for policing matches is expected to keep the footballing lawyers busy this summer.
Mr Justice Eady’s decision that West Yorkshire Police can only claim costs from Leeds United for policing inside the stadium and its immediate footprint.
Burges Salmon partner Mark Gay, one of the country’s top sports lawyers, instructed Blackstone Chambers’ Michael Beloff QC for Leeds United. The force directly instructed 3 Sergeants Inn John Beggs QC to lead James Berry.
“This is a very important case with ramifications for policing football,” Gay told The Lawyer. “Bearing in mind the negotiations are taking place at this very moment for next season’s policing costs, it will be viewed by many clubs and their legal advisers with particular interest.”
The Championship side went to the court for a ruling on which of the services deployed by West Yorkshire Police for the last three seasons were special police services, and whether it was entitled to be repaid for services wrongly categorised.
The litigation involved policing in the extended footprint of land around the stadium. The club argued that this fell within the scope of a constable’s normal common law obligations to maintain public order.
EadyJ ruled those services could not be classified as special police services and the club, whose home matches have one of the worst records of football-related violence in the country, should be repaid.
Counsel for a number of clubs, the Premier League and the Football League are now considering the impact of the judgment.
The case began after a challenge by outspoken Wigan Athletic Football Club chairman Dave Whelan instructed Blackstone Chambers’ Adam Lewis QC in 2008 to fight the mounting cost of special police services.
Lewis persuaded the court to overturn a first instance ruling in favour of Wigan Athletic, with Court of Appeal Chancellor Sir Andrew Morritt ordering the force to pay back to the club more than £330,000.
Fellow judge Lady Justice Smith agreed, saying: “I do not see why the club should pay for services which it did not ask for and which the police provided of their own volition.”
However, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) issued its ‘Paying The Bill’ guidance based on the first instance ruling by Mr Justice Mann.
Forces such as West Yorkshire Police used that guidance to charge clubs for extra resources, with Leeds’ policing costs soaring from £250,000 a year in 2008 to £1m.
Lawyers for several clubs such as Hereford, Sheffield Wednesday and Reading have been preparing legal action on the basis that cash-strapped police forces were using their local football clubs as cash cows, but Leed United instructed Burges Salmon to take the issue back to the courts.
Eady J held that policing on the public highway and on public land fell within “the normal constabulary duty to keep the peace” and such costs were not recoverable from Leeds United by West Yorkshire Police.
If sports lawyers are not tied up renegotiating with football clubs and police forces, they may instead find themselves instructed by companies falling foul of London 2012 organising body LOCOG’s sharp-eyed lawyers.
The odds would have been short on mischievous bookmaker Paddy Power being one of the first to test the patience of LOCOG legal chief Terry Miller and her team of lawyers.
Paddy Power is challenging LOCOG over its decision to remove its high profile “We Hear You” campaign (25 July 2012). Intellectual property is high on the agenda for the LOCOG lawyers at Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer (XXX)
First out of the blocks are Charles Russell partners Mary Bagnall and Ian Lynam, who are acting for Paddy Power and have instructed Monckton Chambers silk Paul Harris QC to fight its corner against LOCOG in the High Court tomorrow.
Rumours that Harris hasn’t slept in days as a flood of new Olympics-related instructions land on his desk are as yet unconfirmed.