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All prosecutions under new Coronavirus Act unlawful, review find(2 Posts)
All prosecutions under new Coronavirus Act unlawful, review finds
All prosecutions under the new Coronavirus Act have been unlawful, a review has found.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) revealed that all 44 charges it had so far checked had been withdrawn or overturned.
Those wrongly convicted include a woman who was fined £660 after being stopped while “loitering” at a railway station in Newcastle.
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Several Coronavirus Act cases, including some against children, are ongoing and the number of dropped cases is expected to rise.
The CPS launched a review of all prosecutions under coronavirus laws after several miscarriages of justice were highlighted by the media.
Greg McGill, the CPS director of legal services, said all the wrongful charges had been brought by police in England and Wales.
“Under the Coronavirus Act all 44 charges were incorrect,” he told a remote press conference on Friday.
“The main problem was that they didn’t relate to potentially infectious people who refused to cooperate with police or public health officers requiring them to be screened for Covid-19. That was the reason for the incorrect charges.”
Six of the people prosecuted were only charged under the Coronavirus Act while 38 were accused of other offences including assault, theft and burglary.
Of the 44 wrongful charges, 31 were withdrawn in court and 13 cases were relisted following convictions.
Eleven people were charged under the separate Health Protection Regulations instead, which enforce restrictions on movement and gatherings.
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More than 14,000 fines have been handed out under the regulations across England and Wales since 27 March, new figures show.
The wrongful charges were brought by police and reviewed by the CPS (AFP/Getty)
There is no route to appeal the penalties without refusing to pay and risking prosecution.
The CPS review found that 175 out of 187 charges under the regulations were correct.
“Where mistakes were made it was usually because Welsh regulations were used in England or vice versa,” Mr McGill said.
“Where we get things wrong it’s right that we do apologise.”
Asked by The Independent why the CPS did not issue a direction for police to stop using the Coronavirus Act, he replied: “We can’t tell people not to charge under the act but we’ve issued legal guidance to the lawyers so they understand the precise circumstances where it can be used.
“It’s not for the CPS to stop charging offences, it’s to make sure that it’s appropriate.”
The Coronavirus Act came into force on 25 March and had been drafted at a time when the threat was perceived to mainly come from people entering the UK from abroad.
But its provisions were rapidly overtaken by events as coronavirus transmission spread within Britain, and the mandatory screening for new arrivals envisaged by the law did not take place.
Schedule 21 creates an offence of “failing to without reasonable excuse to comply with any direction, reasonable instruction, requirement or restriction” imposed as part of the act.
New guidance issued to police in April called the powers “exceptional” and added “We don’t expect you to use these powers in the course of ordinary duty and you really shouldn’t unless asked by a public health officer.”
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But court lists seen by The Independent show that the law continued to be used after that date, including against a 17-year-old boy who was found carrying a knife and cannabis in London. He pleaded guilty to the Coronavirus Act offence and is being held in a youth detention centre awaiting sentence.
Mr McGill said that new CPS guidance said that people being charged with serious offences should not be prosecuted under coronavirus laws at the same time, but that lockdown breaches should be noted as an “aggravating feature” for sentencing.
The case review continues and police must have a supervising review every coronavirus charge because it reaches court.
“I’m confident it will enhance the consistency of charging decisions across the country and ensure a fair criminal justice result for all,” Mr McGill said.
“These new laws came into effect within 72 hours. It has put immense pressure on everyone involved and it meant we haven’t been able to do the usual amount of preparation before the law came into force.
“That’s true for us, the police, colleagues on the defence side of the business and it’s probably true for the judiciary as well. We’re all having to run to keep pace with changing laws.”
Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said he had never seen laws brought in so quickly “without the normal consultation, consideration, training and information”.
“It’s not to make and excuse or that we’re not concerned but we have to put it into context,” he added.
“It was a very significant challenge at a time when there was great public concern about the health issues.
“I’m confident that we’re in a place where we’ve got the right checks and balances and we should be minimising any mistakes going forward.”
The statistics pre-date changes to the Health Protection Regulations that came into force in England on Wednesday.
They have expanded the list of “reasonable excuses” for people to leave home and allowed them to meet one person from another household outside.
But higher fines can now be imposed in England – £100, reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days and rising to a maximum of £3,200 for repeat offences.
Of the 43 regional police forces in England and Wales, the Metropolitan Police has recorded the highest number of fines, with 906, followed by Thames Valley Police, with 866, and North Yorkshire, with 843.
44 / 14,000 doesn't seem like enough to say 'all unlawful'.
I hate the lockdown rules but not convinced this is evidence against them.
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