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London 2012 Olympics - a look at the unprecedented levels of security

Author: ObiterJ |

20 Jul 2012 | 16:04

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The scale of the security operation surrounding the London 2012 Olympic Games is massive.

This video posted on Youtube (UK enforces Olympic flight restrictions) gives some idea of the scale of the operation. The private security firm G4S informed the government that they could not meet the target of staff required for Olympic Security - see Home Secretary Theresa May explaining the G4S problem to the House of Commons and informing the House that troops are "ready to step in when their country calls."

Of course, all this is being justified on the basis that the powers-that-be are making the public feel safe and that it is better to be safe than sorry. After all, the horror of a 9/11 style attack hardly needs to be stated and the military are preparing to shoot down any aircraft considered to be involved in such an attack.  Furthermore, some previous Olympic Games have had terrorist incidents such as Munich 1972 and Atlanta 1996.  Preparations for the Games include placing missiles on the rooftops of buildings.

A whole website is devoted to London 2012 Airspace and a 114 page "Airspace Guide" has been published when the most advisable thing to do might be to go nowhere near any Olympic venue.

Hardly surprisingly, the idea of turning an area into a militarised zone with missile batteries met with considerable objection from those who have to live and work there. They brought an application for judicial review of the government's decision to place missiles at Fred Wigg Tower, Leytonstone in the London Borough of Waltham Forest - Harrow Community Support Ltd v Secretary of State for Defence [2012]. 

The placing of the missiles was considered by the government to be essential for national security reasons.  Once "national security" is in issue, the courts will generally not intervene.  This is what Haddon-Cave J said at paragraphs 24 to 27:

"Approach of the Courts in matters of national security

I turn to consider the law. In matters of national security and deployment of the armed forces, it is well know that "the Courts will be very slow to review the exercise of prerogative powers..." and will avoid being drawn "into an area which, in the past, they have entered, if at all, with reluctance and the utmost circumspection" (per Lord Bingham in R v Jones [2006] UKHL 16 at [30]). The deployment of military personnel and equipment for national security and defence of the realm purposes "has always been regarded as a discretionary power of the Crown into the exercise of which the courts will not inquire" [per Lord Hoffmann in Jones at [65]]. {See also R(Gentle) v. Prime Minister [2008] UKHL 20; R (Marchiori) v. Environment Agency [2002] EWCA Civ 3, R(CND) v. Prime Minister [2002] EWHC 2777 (Admin) (DC) and R(Abbasi) v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2002] EWCA Civ 1598; R (Hassan) v. Secretary of State for Defence [2009] EWHC 309 (Admin); Smith v. MOD [2009] EWHC 1676 (QB)}.

There are three limited exceptions to this principle. First, where the act in question falls outside the ambit of the discretionary power (see Jones (supra) at [66]). Second, where the act is not done in good faith (see Marchiori (supra) at [40]). Third, where a statute requires a review of the act in question (see Marchiori (supra) at [40]). The proposed deployment is clearly within the ambit of the discretionary power and is made in good faith and, accordingly, the first two exceptions can be dismissed. The only relevant exception is the third, in view of the Claimant's claim under the Human Rights Act 1998.

The rationale for this judicial restraint is obvious. There are aspects of decision-making which the Court must necessarily accept lie properly, and solely, with the executive. These include questions of pure policy and the substantive merits of factual decisions in sensitive fields like those of national security, defence and foreign relations. These are fields in which the Court is manifestly ill-equipped to judge the merits of any decision. Further, the Court should never presume to do so since this would be to trespass on the rightful province of the Executive and to fail to accord proper respect to a democratically elected government which is answerable politically for its actions (c.f. generally CND (supra) at [22] and Marchiori (supra) at [38]; and see A v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] 2 AC 68). Decisions as to the actual operational deployment of armed forces and weapons for reasons of national security are akin to, or perilously close to, the "forbidden territory" referred to in Abbasi (supra) at [106], i.e. lying within the exclusive curtilage of the Executive.

Military operational deployments for reasons of national security are matters for which the Government is answerable to Parliament and not - absent bad faith or acting outside the limits of the discretion."

The case is also interesting in that Mr Justice Haddon-Cave looked at whether the residents should have been consulted by the government (paras. 28 to 35).  He concluded: "... none of factors in Cheshire East BC [2011] EWHC 1975 (Admin) which might give rise to the implication of a duty to consult, is present here. In my judgment, the Claimant's first ground, that the Secretary of State was in breach of his duty to consult, is unarguable in law."

The case is considered on the UK Human Rights blog - Locals' Olympic missile site challenge rejected.

For my part, I would not be going anywhere near any Olympic venue but might watch a few events - (couch potato style) - from the safety of my TV set.  Alternatively, I might take to the hills! Still have a few Munros to conquer. All the militarisation - even if it is necessary - is rather worrying and might create an unfortunate precedent in the way that the military is used in our country. 

Futureconscience writes: "Typhoon fighter jets, snipers in RAF helicopters, Royal Navy assault ships, tens of thousands of military personnel, crowd surveillance drones and missile systems on top of apartment blocks.  Welcome to London 2012.  Welcome to the largest mobilisation of military in this country since the end of WWII.  Beyond the white elephant concerns of an Olympic budget that will run into the tens of billions during a period of deep economic calamity, London is finding itself at the centre of a debate that polarises people like few others.  Are we entering into the next phase of a forthcoming police state, or are these measures an appropriate and ‘benign’ response to the socio-political landscape of the 21st century?"

In similar vein, Globalresearch says: "The London Olympics are fast taking on the appearance and tone of a full-scale land, sea and air military operation rather than an international sporting event. With surface-to-air missiles stationed on top of residential apartment blocks, Royal Navy battleships on alert and Royal Air Force fighter jets and helicopters patrolling the skies over Britain’s capital there is a foreboding sense of a nation at war instead of an occasion of internationalist fraternity that the ancient Games are supposed to embody."

ObiterJ is the author of the Law and Lawyers blog. Click here to follow ObiterJ on Twitter.

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