We are three months into the lockdown and largely none the wiser about a lot of the new rules, particularly the extension of police powers in this time.
The police were given exceptional powers under the Health Protection Regulations, under which they are able to arrest and fine people for evading the lockdown restrictions. They were also given powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020, to be used to support Public Health where necessary and proportionate.
Overzealous policing in lockdown?
Although the police were encouraged to use these measures as a last resort, and only in exceptional circumstances, over 17,000 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) have been given in England and Wales since the lockdown began in late March.
The police were given the power to use reasonable force where they believed people were not complying with lockdown restrictions and following social distancing measures. However, this has led to what the Joint Committee on Human Rights referred to as ‘heavy-handed policing’, in their briefing paper on The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 & The Lockdown Restrictions. They stated,
‘[i]t is unacceptable that many thousands of people are being fined in circumstances where (a) the Regulations contain unclear and ambiguous language, (b) there is evidence that the police do not fully understand their powers, (c) a significant percentage of prosecutions have been shown to be wrongly charged, (d) there has been no systematic review of FPNs and (e) there is no appeal or review provided for under the Regulations. It is therefore essential that an urgent review of FPNs is undertaken and that, in any event, the Government introduce a means of challenging FPNs by way of administrative review or appeal in the next set of amendments.’
Overzealous policing in lockdown can lead to a criminal record and those who were wrongly fined later having to appeal their fines. Last month the CPS announced that all 44 prosecutions under the Coronavirus Act were incorrectly charged1.
Disproportionate use of stop and search and issuing of fines
Stop and search has increased considerably during the lockdown; increasing by almost 50% from April 2019 to April 2020. Despite there being significantly less people on the streets, stop and search was used over 30,000 times in London in April alone. It is difficult to understand the sharp increase, particularly as the rate of arrests following a stop and search has reduced significantly.
Black people are 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched and, yet again, have been subjected to discriminatory policing and continue to be disproportionately stopped and searched during the lockdown. This has been particularly problematic, for example where an essential worker was unreasonably stopped and handcuffed, on their way to work at a school in London.
Black people have also been found to be more than twice as likely to be fined during the lockdown. This has included a man delivering food to a vulnerable family member who was handcuffed and threatened with pepper spray in Greater Manchester who was later given an FPN. As well as a woman from York who was fined and charged incorrectly in Newcastle, under the new law.
A letter2 to the government, penned by human rights groups including Liberty, argued that although lockdown measures are being relaxed, policing has increased, and that “communities of colour are both over-policed and under-protected.”
This raises further concerns about safety during the pandemic, particularly as the Public Health England ‘Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19’ report3 provided the alarming information that Black and Asian ethnic groups have had the highest death rates from COVID-19, and that people from Black ethnic groups are most likely to be diagnosed with the virus.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council has reported a reduction in fines between 26th May and 8th June 2020, though their latest set of figures did not show the demographics of persons issued with notices. Time will tell if this will continue to decline as the UK continues to ease out of lockdown.
The Metropolitan Police have also acknowledged the disproportionate number of fines given to Black people during lockdown. It will be important to monitor what measures are taken to address this unequal treatment and to ensure that the over-policing of Black communities does not continue.
If you received a fixed penalty notice and believe you have been incorrectly charged and would like to speak with one of our Civil Liberties and Human Rights Solicitors, please call 0808 252 5231 or request a call back.