Campaigners are calling for an end to all Covid-related prosecutions in the UK after it was revealed that one in three prosecutions were incorrectly brought. An review by the Crown Prosecution Service found that hundreds of people have been wrongly charged and prosecuted under the Health Protection (Restrictions, Coronavirus) Regulations and the Coronavirus Act 2020 – as reported by the Independent.
‘We cannot have a justice system where people in power can break lockdown with impunity while others are prosecuted and fined,’ commented chief executive of Fair Trials, Norman L. Reimer. ‘The government’s response to the pandemic has been to extend police powers and create a raft of new criminal offences. Policing has been heavy-handed, discriminatory, and in hundreds of cases, unlawful. The pandemic has highlighted pre-existing divisions in our societies and none more so than in our criminal justice system. While ordinary people were being fined for meeting more than one friend, those in power engaged in such conduct with impunity while calling for others to be prosecuted. What better evidence is there that we have a two-tiered system of justice?’
The group pointed out that the majority of charges under the regulations had not been looked at as they have been brought under the single justice procedure, leading to the risk of hundreds more unlawful convictions. Single justice procedure cases are charged by the police and heard ‘on the papers’ by a single magistrate alongside a legal advisor. Almost 5,000 coronavirus cases have been dealt with via the procedure.
As of November 2021, police in England and Wales had processed a total of 118,438 fixed penalty notices (FPNs ) for breaches under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020 and subsequent amendments. As of June 2021, 369 fines of £10,000 had been given out for ‘participating in a large gathering’ (more than 30 people) under the Regulations in England and Wales. 3,941 fines of £800 had been given out for participating in a gathering of more than 15 people.
According to Fair Trials, the criminal justice response to the pandemic has ‘not only been heavy-handed but discriminatory’. ‘Police have been twice as likely to fine young Black, Asian, and minoritised ethnic people for alleged lockdown offences, while stop and search rose 24% during the first year of the pandemic, despite people being at home much more due to the restrictions,’ says the group. ‘Black people were seven times more likely to be stopped than white people, and the equivalent of one in five ethnic minority teenagers were stopped and searched in London.’