Sunday, January 16, 2022

Covid prosecutions and fines ‘must end via Downing Street’s impunity’

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The coronavirus prosecution must be halted amid allegations that government officials broke the law “with impunity” while ordinary members of the public were fined, activists said.

The Fair Trials group called for the nearly 120,000 fines imposed so far in England and Wales to be lifted and all charges under the Covid laws to be withdrawn.

Chief Executive Normal L. Reimer said: “We cannot have a justice system where those in power can lift the lockdown with impunity while others are prosecuted and fined.

“The government’s response to the pandemic has been to expand police powers and create a range of new crimes.

“Policing was persistent, discriminatory and, in hundreds of cases, unlawful.”

Numbers received from LatestPageNews show that 30 percent of the coronavirus prosecutions reviewed by prosecutors so far – 803 out of 2,716 – were unlawful.

Every single one of the 307 charges brought under the coronavirus law was unlawful, and a further 496 were falsely brought under versions of the health protection rule that have been amended to enforce various lockdowns and restrictions.

Legal experts fear there may have been more miscarriages of justice in at least 5,000 closed hearings under the controversial “single justice procedure,” which the CPS does not review.

They have seen people being fined heavily for Covid offenses without entering pleas or seeking legal representation, including several people fined £1,100 for gatherings on the same day as alleged Downing Street parties.

Kieron McArdle, who was fined £100 for having friends in his Warwickshire garden, said so Daily Mail It was “a rule for them, a rule for the rest of us” and called for fines to be returned or donated to charity.

Fair Trials said the pandemic has resulted in a “two-tier justice system” that has highlighted pre-existing divisions in society.

Mr Reimer added: “While ordinary people were fined for meeting more than one friend, those in power committed such behavior with impunity and called for the prosecution of others.”

Evidence collected by a parliamentary committee suggested that young people, black and Asian groups, men and the most socially disadvantaged were most at risk of prosecution.

Ministers failed to implement official recommendations from parliamentary committees to ensure people can challenge fines without ending up in court or to review the 119,000 fines already imposed.

Sir Bob Neill, the chairman of Parliament’s Justice Committee, said earlier LatestPageNews he was “disappointed” that the government reintroduced the Covid fines without changing the regime.

“There appears to be an unwillingness to learn lessons from the unsatisfactory manner in which Covid offenses were presented last time around and a worrying failure to recognize that rule of law safeguards should never be traded for speed or expediency” , added the Conservative MP.

A Judiciary Committee report released in September urged the government to consider “alternative approaches” to enforcing future coronavirus restrictions, but the same regime was put in place for new face coverings and Covid-passing legislation in November.

MPs also urged the government to carry out a review of the broader Covid fines system, but the recommendation was not heeded.

The committee raised concerns that people contesting fines received inconsistent responses from different police forces and said the government “should ensure that the review process allows an individual to contest a notice without risking criminal prosecution”. No change was made.

Concerns about the system were officially raised as early as September 2020, when Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) declared that the lack of a formal fines procedure “would invariably lead to injustice”.

Last month, Chairwoman Harriet Harman said LatestPageNews that people who could afford to pay fines could avoid prosecution, while those who couldn’t ended up with criminal records.

“The whole process was characterized by inequality and unfair treatment that hit the less well off and criminalized the poor versus the better off,” she added.

The Metropolitan Police have said they will not change their position on investigating parties at Downing Street following allegations of two new gatherings.

Police said police “do not normally investigate breaches of coronavirus regulations when they are reported long after they are said to have taken place”.

“However, if there is significant evidence pointing to a violation of the regulations, officers can review and consider it,” she added.

“The Met is in constant contact with the Cabinet Office regarding its investigation. If the investigation uncovers evidence of conduct that may constitute a criminal offense, it will be referred to the Met for further investigation.”

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