RIGHTS GROUPS CALL FOR URGENT REVIEW OF CORONAVIRUS FINES
- A “significant number” of the 14,000 fines may have been wrongly issued, lawyers and rights campaigners say
- Police stats show “disproportionate punishment” of Asian people
- Big Brother Watch warns of “outbreak of injustice” as fines increase in England
Civil liberties groups and human rights lawyers have called for an urgent review of all police fines issued under emergency powers.
Over 14,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued by police in England and Wales since the lockdown regulations came into force at the end of March.
The new lockdown rules increased fines in England, meaning individuals can be fined on the spot up to £100 for a first offence, rising to £3,200 for repeat offences.
However, rights groups and lawyers calling for a review of all fines are concerned that “a significant number of fixed penalty notices have been wrongly issued” by police.
The concern follows the initial findings of an ongoing CPS review of all prosecutions under emergency laws, which found that up until the end of April, every single prosecution under the Coronavirus Act (44) was unlawful. One case involved a woman who was wrongly fined £660 after being held in custody and found guilty under the Coronavirus Act for failing to account for her movements at Newcastle train station. The conviction has since been overturned. In addition, 12 prosecutions under the Health Protection Regulations (“lockdown” restrictions) were unlawful and had to be withdrawn or overturned.
Big Brother Watch and human rights barrister Kirsty Brimelow QC, who called for the CPS review, are now urging for a police review of fines in light of the latest evidence. In their joint letter co-signed by Fair Trials, INQUEST, Liberty, Netpol, Police Action Lawyers Group and StopWatch, the groups urge the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Martin Hewitt to “instigate a national review of all Fixed Penalty Notices” since they are “issued with less scrutiny” than the charges under review by the CPS.
In the letter, the campaigners raised the alarm that the new statistics on fines show “disproportionate punishment” of Asian people, who received 13% of all penalties in England despite representing 7.8% of the population.
The only way a person can contest a penalty is by risking a prosecution and going to a Magistrates court, which could incur legal and financial risks. The campaigners caution that “many people are paying fixed penalty notices, even if inappropriately issued, to avoid this risk.”
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said:
“We understand the challenges police face but if the public is to trust that in lawful, proportionate and fair policing in this pandemic then they must at least admit and correct the serious mistakes they’ve made.
“There could be hundreds or even thousands of people in this country, many already suffering financial hardship, who have paid police fines despite having done nothing wrong.
“The CPS review revealed an outbreak of injustice and we fear it could be just the tip of the iceberg.”
Big Brother Watch is asking anyone who believes they have been wrongly issued a fixed penalty notice under emergency powers in the UK to make contact: email@example.com
The full letter can be found here.