Tue, 03 May 2022
Colin Banham and Christopher Hopkins recently succeeded in securing acquittals for two SIA licensed court security officers following an incident at Croydon Magistrates’ Court in July 2021. Both counsel were instructed by John Dance at DWF Law LLP (London).
Both officers were charged with offences of common assault and criminal damage after ejecting a solicitor from the Court following routine security checks. They described in their defence statements how they had been working as Court Security Officers dressed in full uniform on the day and displaying their licences. They were responsible for the front door entrance procedures and searches inside the Court building whilst their supervisor was outside asking visitors what were the the standard Covid-19 questions being asked of all court visitors at that time. Both officers noticed the solicitor appearing to take objection to the questions he was asked by their supervisor.
The solicitor was allowed entry into the Court where he approached the search desk. There he became agitated and aggressive when asked further questions about why he was neither wearing a mask nor displaying an exemption pass as were required at the time. Both officers deemed the solicitor to become argumentative and aggressive in his manner. At one point he threatened to go around the search desk and arrest one of the officers whilst he was also verbally abusive towards the other. The officers stated that they had sought to calmly engage with the much larger solicitor in an effort to diffuse the situation and warned him that if he did not calm down then he would be asked to leave since his behaviour was unacceptable. However, it appeared to both that the solicitor was trying to intimidate the officers. His behaviour continued to escalate until there came a point when he appeared to lunge towards one of the officers. At that point, both officers grabbed hold of the solicitor and removed him from the building. The solicitor later claimed to have been injured and that a number of his personal items including his laptop, mobile phone and suit had been damaged in the process.
The trial took place before a District Judge at Bromley Magistrates’ Court on the 4th and 11th of April 2022. CCTV was played which had captured the entirety of the incident although there was no audio. In addition to the complainant solicitor, evidence for the prosecution was also given by two police officers who had been present at the Court that day and witnessed the solicitor being removed but not the events leading up to it. A statement from the security supervisor was read which was supportive of both his colleagues’ actions. For the defence, bad character evidence was admitted regarding a previous dispute between the solicitor and court staff at Croydon about the need to wear a mask or display an exemption pass on the premises. A use of force expert witness, Ken Carvalho, was called by the defence to give his views on the actions taken by both officers.
Applications were made on behalf of both officers by their respective counsel for the case to be stopped before either defendant gave their evidence. Particular reliance was placed upon section 53 of the Courts Act 2003 which allows a court security officer to remove any person from a court building where it is reasonably necessary to maintain order or to secure the safety of any person in the building. Reasonable force may lawfully be used where necessary.
The District Judge accepted both applications and dismissed the charges against both officers. She agreed with the submissions made that the prosecution had failed to prove the defendants had acted unlawfully in either their (1) initial actions in laying hands on the solicitor; or (2) removing him from the building. Accordingly, there was no case to answer for either officer.
Defence costs orders were made for both officers and wasted costs of £600 were awarded against the CPS after it had failed to prepare for an earlier preliminary hearing.
The case serves to highlight the importance of section 53 of the Courts Act 2003 when defending court security officers charged with similar offences alleged to have taken place whilst acting in the course of their duties. It also demonstrates the very difficult daily challenges our security and other frontline staff faced in keeping others safe and critical services running whilst the covid-19 legal measures remained in place.