More than 18,000 fixed penalty notices which were issued during the coronavirus lockdown should be reviewed, says a group of peers, MPs and human rights groups.
A letter sent to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) says that they should look again at the fines which were levied across the UK under emergency measures brought in since Boris Johnson declared the lockdown in late March.
A total of 18,439 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) including 15,856 in England and 2,583 in Wales were recorded by forces between March 27 and June 22, according to provisional NPCC data.
As the country reaches 100 days of lockdown, a letter sent to the NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt by the group led by organisation Big Brother Watch said the case for a review was now “extremely compelling”, reports PA news agency.
The letter, seen by PA, said: “Currently, the NPCC has neither acknowledged the systemic issue of unlawful, inconsistent and discriminatory enforcement of emergency laws, nor taken the initiative to support reviews by police forces of FPNs (fixed penalty notices).
“No reasons were given as to why the NPCC does not support a review.
“The only means to ensure injustices are recognised and remedied is to review all fines already issued.”
Those adding their names to the letter include former Conservative cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and acting Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey, as well as Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, alongside groups including Amnesty International UK and Liberty.
The Brighton vicar who shot to fame after asking Health Secretary Matt Hancock to review all lockdown fines during one of the Government’s daily press briefings in May following the wake of the Dominic Cummings affair – Reverend Martin Poole – has also backed the calls.
The letter describes the laws under which the fines were issued as “draconian” and “the most severe restrictions of rights and freedoms” since the Second World War.
It also claims that statistics published so far indicate there is a “postcode lottery” of where fines have been issued.
As well as calling the 18,439 FPNs into question, the letter has raised concerns that a disproportionate quantity of fines was given out to black and Asian people, describing this as “evidence of racism, discrimination and bias”.
North Yorkshire Police has issued the most fines so far (1,122), followed by the Metropolitan Police (1,072) and Devon and Cornwall (978) compared to just 42 in Staffordshire and 58 in Warwickshire.
PA has analysed NPCC data on fines issued in England and Wales between March 27 and June 22 and believes that the rate was 47% higher for those given to people who were not white.
Comparing the number of fines to the population, using estimates broken down by ethnicity from the Office for National Statistics, the research has indicated the number handed to white people was around 23 per every 100,000.
For those from BAME backgrounds, this was 34 fines per 100,000 people.
It was reported in June that there were wrongful prosecutions taking place under the emergency legislation brought in to enforce lockdown measures.
The Crown Prosecution Service says it’s continuing to review all prosecutions following a string of errors which have been brought to its attention by journalists, lawyers and campaigners.
Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said there had been “no justice for the thousands of people we estimate have been wrongly penalised with fines”.
In an earlier response, Mr Hewitt welcomed “proper scrutiny” of the use of the powers but said it was “not for the NPCC to review the work of individual forces.”
He insisted enforcement was always a “last resort”, adding: “Where mistakes have been made, we have recognised this.”
The NPCC faced criticism last week for the length of time it has been taking to publish detailed data on the ethnicity of people being fined.
A spokesman for the body said: “The letter has been received and is being properly considered.
“There will be a publication of our ethnicity analysis in July.”