Coronavirus / Policing

Covid police fines misused warn rights groups

Posted on 20 Nov 2020

  • Liberty and Big Brother Watch call for review of covid fines
  • 10 police forces with worst record of discrimination warned in legal letters
  • Forces must review fines to ensure compliance with equality laws

Liberty and Big Brother Watch have called on Chief Constables at 10 police forces to act on discrimination and misuse of lockdown powers.

The call comes after the Government instructed police forces to resume issuing on-the-spot fines of up to £10,000, despite discriminatory impact.

In letters sent today, 20 November, the human rights groups say the police forces must review the fines issued by their officers under new lockdown powers or risk breaching equality laws.

Government granted sweeping new powers to enforce the first lockdown with heavy fines and the threat of criminal penalties. Analysis by Liberty’s independent journalism unit Liberty Investigates and later the NPCC found stark disparity with which these powers were used against people of colour compared with white people.

The differing rates vary starkly across England and Wales. The forces with the worst records, contacted by Liberty and Big Brother Watch, are:

  • Dyfed-Powys
  • Cumbria
  • Derbyshire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Suffolk
  • West Mercia
  • North Yorkshire
  • North Wales
  • Lancashire
  • Sussex

On 17 November, the Government told police to resume handing out fines of up to £10,000 for organising gatherings, despite judges reducing hefty fines when people are unable to pay them.

Both Liberty and Big Brother Watch highlight that this raises the risk of further unfairness as some people can pay the fines immediately, while others must face prosecution to reduce them, risking a criminal record.

Grey Collier, Advocacy Director at Liberty, said: “This pandemic has been extremely hard for all of us, but for some there’s been the added threat of being criminalised and slapped with severe financial penalties, some of which have been given unlawfully.

“By prioritising criminal justice over public health, the Government laid the foundations for overzealous policing that fell hardest and most unfairly on people of colour.

“The Government and police must learn from the mistakes of the first lockdown. If they don’t, whatever goodwill remains will be diminished. The starting point must be on reviewing the fines already issued. We then need a pandemic strategy that protect rights, builds trust and serves to keep us all safe.”

Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The Government’s response to this pandemic has been to coerce and penalise the public with erratic fines and ever-increasing enforcement powers, despite widespread compliance and great hardship for many. It is a gross injustice that this authoritarian swing has been inflicted most harshly on people of colour and we demand that this is rectified.

“It’s no surprise that many police forces have already been forced to withdraw fines, given the significant and sustained confusion across the country as to what the rules actually are. As we face a winter of lockdowns, its more vital than ever that police forces urgently review the vast number of fines that have been issued.”

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