Local not-for-profit law firm acts on concerns about how police use powers during the pandemic
By Charlotte Threipland
As coronavirus regulations toughen up, concerns of unfair and biased policing have inspired local lawyers to try to help.
Only a year ago, it would have been unthinkable that the government could make it a criminal offence to leave our homes, sleep elsewhere or meet with friends and family.
But a raft of new laws created in the name of Covid-19, do just that.
They are the largest infringement on our fundamental rights and liberties since the second world war.
With the prime minster’s recent announcement that such restrictions will continue in England and Wales until at least Spring 2021, some will be wondering what happens if they are stopped by the police for breaching the rules.
When the police believe you have breached the regulations, they can issue you with a fine or fixed penalty notice (FPN).
This system was designed to avoid prosecutors having to take people to court for relatively minor offences. But the fines are anything but minor – starting at £100 and going up to £10,000. Nobody wants to receive that letter through their letterbox.
Along with others, we at Commons, a not-for-profit law firm based in Lambeth, have been concerned with how the police have been using their powers during the pandemic.
Research shows that the likelihood of receiving a FPN is a postcode lottery and that if you are a person of colour, you are 54% more likely to be given a fine.
The police have also been overzealous in their approach.
One force dyed a lagoon black during the Spring lockdown to try to discourage people from visiting the beauty spot.
All of the prosecutions that have been made under the Coronavirus Act (rather than the regulations) have been found by the Crown Prosecution Service to be unlawful.
On top of this, the regulations are difficult to follow as they are rapidly changing and are often accompanied by confusing government guidance and messaging.
This is why Commons created the Coronavirus Fines + Crimes: Web App to help people who have been stopped by the police over an alleged breach of the coronavirus regulations.
The tool, which launched on 23 November, aims to help people navigate their rights and assess their options.
Commons will use the data we collect to monitor police behaviour – tracking the extent to which policing under the coronavirus regulations is being carried out fairly, particularly towards minority ethnic groups.
In a democracy, and particularly during a pandemic, it is important that people know their rights. We also need to better understand how police forces are carrying out their duties by monitoring the impact on minority ethnic groups and keeping an eye on excessive policing.
If you or anyone you know has been stopped by the police and told that you are in breach of coronavirus rules, please get in touch with Commons by completing this form.
If you would like more information on the FPN process and the regulations, Commons has written a short guide to accompany the tool.
Advice from Black Protest Legal Support
Charlotte Threipland is a communications and research consultant for Commons, the social justice law firm