9 April Update

POLICING

With the Easter weekend approaching, there were renewed reports that senior police officers were lobbying the government to consider toughening coronavirus lockdown restrictions. The Guardian reported that these may include “stringent restrictions to prevent people [from] driving long distances” and tougher enforcement to limit exercise to once a day.

One police chief is quoted as saying, “We need to say you can’t drive. The burden needs to be on the individual, not the state, to prove reasonableness.” The police currently have no power in law to prevent people from driving for exercise. Removing the burden of the state to prove its actions are reasonable would mean a derogation from the Human Rights Act, which the existing emergency powers do not allow.

Northamptonshire’s Chief Constable has said the force plans to now ramp up the enforcement of coronavirus regulations. Nick Adderley said the “three-week grace period is over”, and people in the county could now face fines or a criminal record.

One indication Adderley gave was that officers could start checking shopping trolleys to make sure people are only buying essentials (see video). As has been pointed out, “if we do ban people using physical shops for non-essential items that could put even more pressure on supermarket delivery services which those in need are already struggling to access”.

After a backlash, Northamptonshire Police appeared to backtrack and to blame the media for reporting their Chief Constable’s comments

Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has also said people who refuse to leave public spaces during the current lockdown, when asked by police, will be forced to do so.

The Police Federation’s chair has simultaneously acknowledged that “the vast majority of the public are supporting the restrictions” but denied, despite widely reported concerns, that the police have adopted  “a heavy-handed approach”.

It is unclear how tougher action on driving will work alongside amended guidance on leaving home, which says that those with health conditions that require them to leave their homes more than once a day and travel beyond their local area are expressly permitted to do so. The likelihood that police officers on the ground will know about the change seems remote, leaving people in this position facing demands to return home.

However, in contrast, following complaints from people living near Victoria Park in east London who have no access to a private garden and felt unfairly punished by its closure by the council and police last week, the park is due to reopen this weekend.

Again in east London, it was reported that some members of a local mutual aid group in Newham had received an unsolicited email from the Metropolitan Police asking them to become an undefined “community contact”. The email was sent with recipients’ email addresses shared to everyone.

Manchester Evening News reported today that Greater Manchester Police says it was called to 494 house parties last weekend, although it is unclear how many of these incidents involved fines or warnings. This would certainly mean that Manchester was an outlier in what was an otherwise quiet weekend.

The Gangsline Foundation Trust and the Exit Foundation, who both work on harm reduction with gang members, has said that gang rivalries have been “put on hold” and violence has “stopped” as members follow coronavirus lockdown rules.

In the West Midlands, Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has said far-right groups are spreading false rumours that mosques are breaking lock down guidance

COURTS

In evidence to the Justice Committee of the House of Commons, Attorney General Robert Buckland answered questions [pdf] was asked about hearings conducted by digital means. Conservative MP Sarah Dines said that “anecdotal experience suggested that evidence taken that way was not of the best quality. What guarantee was there of a fair trial?” Buckland assured the committee that “in general, apart from the problem of jury trials, which had many moving parts and were virtually impossible to conduct remotely, the work of courts was proceeding in novel, transformative ways. Privilege of discussions was being maintained, and justice being seen to be done”.

However, a barrister’s blog recounted evidence from the West Midlands suggesting courts are rushing trials and dispensing with the rules of evidence and procedure, which may explain the recent spate of harsh – and extremely rapid – convictions and imprisonment on coronavirus-related charges.

Netpol pointed out that the length of recent sentences for coronavirus cases “has echoes too of another moment of crisis: in 2011 during the English riots, courts handed down prison sentences on average 25% longer than the normal sentences for convicted crimes”.

COMMENT

Alternative Bristol: Police use Stasi-style snitching portals as hypocrisy over park use rumbles on

RESOURCES

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has published a white paper saying Let’s stop talking about using location data to identify individuals that were in close contact and could have been infected by a person testing positive. It doesn’t work

Keeping watch: help us track coronavirus surveillance around the world. With your help, we can keep tabs on them.” Set up by The Correspondent.

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