Campaigners demand review of all lockdown fines

Big Brother Watch Team / July 1, 2020

  • Big Brother Watch has sent a letter demanding a review to police chiefs, backed by 13 rights groups, 40+ parliamentarians, human rights lawyers and Reverend Martin Poole
  • Groups warn “draconian powers have been used unlawfully time and time again”
  • Letter evidences “racism, discrimination and bias” in issuing of lockdown fines.

Campaigners have sent a letter to police chiefs demanding a review of all lockdown fines issued in England and Wales, describing recent policing as “inconsistent and discriminatory”.

The letter, sent by civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, is signed by Reverend Martin Poole – the Brighton Vicar who questioned the Health Secretary Matt Hancock during the Government’s daily press briefing in the wake of the Dominic Cummings affair. In a statement Revd. Poole said his question had aimed to “highlight potential inequality in the way lockdown regulations were being implemented” and that this “appears to be borne out in the statistics”.

Senior human rights lawyers including Kirsty Brimelow QC, who identified a number of unlawful convictions under emergency laws, and 13 rights groups including Amnesty International, Liberty and the Institute of Race Relations, backed the call. They are joined by over 40 parliamentarians across parties including Andrew Mitchell, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Sir Ed Davey and Caroline Lucas who also signed the letter.

The letter outlines statistics indicating a “postcode lottery” of policing and disproportionate numbers of fines being issued to black and Asian people, which the signatories described as “evidence of racism, discrimination and bias”. Freedom of Information requests by Liberty Investigates found that, of the 25 police forces that provided ethnicity data relating to the fines, 18 forces evidenced statistically significant ethnic disproportionality between fines issued to black and minority ethnic (BAME) people and white people.

In his reply to a previous letter Big Brother Watch sent to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Chair Martin Hewitt said evidence of racial discrimination is “complex” and that “a sizeable number of FPNs [fixed penalty notices] issued by local forces have been to non-residents who had travelled into their area in contravention of the Regulations.”

The signatories described this as “an unconvincing and unevidenced explanation that implies or assumes that it is disproportionately black and Asian people who contravened the Regulations”. In their call for a review, they told police chiefs that “relying on racist stereotypes to dismiss concerns about discriminatory policing perpetuate[s] harmful policing practices [and] bring[s] policing into disrepute.”

Big Brother Watch, which has been monitoring policing during the pandemic, said it identified “an outbreak of inconsistent, heavy-handed and sometimes incompetent policing.” Concerns about unlawful policing and even prosecutions led to the CPS undertaking unprecedented monthly reviews of every charge, conviction and sentence under emergency laws. The CPS has so far found that 100% of prosecutions under the Coronavirus Act were unlawful. The last review found 10% of prosecutions under the lockdown Regulations were unlawful. However, the 18,439 fines issued under the lockdown Regulations have not been reviewed and can only be appealed by risking prosecution in a magistrates court.

“The only means to ensure injustices are recognised and remedied is to review all fines already issued,” the letter states.

Quotes

Reverend Martin Poole said:

“My aim with the question at the daily press briefing on 27th May was to highlight potential inequality in the way lockdown regulations were being implemented and this appears to be borne out in the statistics outlined by Big Brother Watch.

“It is a particular cause for concern that BAME members of the public and other vulnerable individuals seem to have been disproportionally affected in the imposition of these fines.”

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said:

“We’ve identified an outbreak of inconsistent, heavy-handed and sometimes incompetent policing. These draconian powers have been used unlawfully time and time again and there’s no justice for the thousands of people we estimate have been wrongly penalised with fines.

“At a time when authorities are telling the public they’ll tackle racism wherever they find it, it’s deeply hypocritical that police are disproportionately targeting ethnic minorities with lockdown fines, providing fundamentally racist explanations for it and refusing to review them.

“Our country has been through enough over the past three months. We cannot recover from this crisis in the shadow of injustice.”

Kirsty Brimelow QC said:

“It is likely that thousands of members of the public have paid fines pursuant to fixed penalty notices issued by police that ought not to have issued. The police must play their part to remedy the havoc caused by their overzealous enforcement of the emergency laws.

“Previously, Martin Hewitt apologised for ‘mistakes’ made in wrongly charging people. However, he relies upon the leadership of Crown Prosecution Service to continue reviewing the charges. The issuing of FPNs is firmly a matter for the police to review. There is no logic in supporting the CPS review of charges but failing to support a review of fixed penalty notices. People can ill afford to pay financial penalties and a review is essential to rebuild cooperation and trust between the public and police and the criminal justice system.”

Notes

  1. The full letter can be found here.
  2. Spokespeople are available for interview. Contact info@bigbrotherwatch.org.uk or 07730439257
  3. 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: info@bigbrotherwatch.org.uk
  4. The full letter Big Brother Watch and others initially sent to police chiefs to call for a review of all lockdown fines can be found here. Martin Hewitt’s reply is available on request.
  5. Big Brother Watch publishes Emergency Powers and Civil Liberties reports every month, analysing policing, emergency powers, surveillance and more, and sends a copy to every parliamentarian. The reports are available online here.