15-17 May Update

All prosecutions under the new Coronavirus Act have been unlawful, a review has found. The Crown Prosecution Service revealed that all 44 charges it had so far checked had been withdrawn or overturned. Details of the CPS review available here.

A total of 14,244 fixed penalty notices were also recorded by forces in England and Wales, prior to the easing of lockdown measures in England last week. These figures were not included in the CPS review, although there is no route to appeal available to those issued with a fine unless they refuse to pay and risk prosecution.

The full breakdown up to 11 May of these fixed penalty fines, including demographic details, is available here.

The Independent has highlighted how police in some parts of the country are handing out up to 26 times more coronavirus lockdown fines than officers in others amid a “postcode lottery” of enforcement.

After London and Thames Valley, rural North Yorkshire Police issued more fines to coronavirus rulebreakers than any other force in England. It covers a population of 800,000, compared to 2.1 million for Thames Valley and over 8 million in London. So far, Lancashire Police has issued 736 fines and Dorset Police has issued 808 fines.

Police forces have started to share on social media the new guidance from the government on exercising safely outdoors (see this example from the Metropolitan Police). The National Police Chiefs Council warned that people playing football or spending time with friends in parks could still face fines for breaking coronavirus laws,

North Wales Police has made it clear it is likely to stop vehicles driving in from England, linking to the restrictions in Wales. Over the weekend, Sussex Police set up a roadblock on the A23 to stop vehicles on their way into Brighton and check if drivers are complying with coronavirus lockdown guidelines.

A 14-year-old boy was due in court on Monday accused of breaking lockdown restrictions in Paddington.
He is facing two charges, one under English law, another under Welsh law.

The Guardian followed up on the widely circulated story about racial profiling by the Metropolitan Police in lockdown searches.

Drill or Drop has highlighted how over 600 people have signed an open letter coordinated by Netpol to senior police officers calling for an end, before the lockdown is over, to the categorisation of political campaigning as “domestic extremism”

On Saturday, there were mixed results for a widely advertised (and widely condemned) series of “mass gatherings” to protest against lockdown restrictions, called by a group called UK Freedom Movement. In both Brighton and Leed, nobody turned up at all and there were no more than a dozen in Manchester.

In London, several hundred gathered at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. They were outnumbered by dozens of police officers. The climate change denial activist and 5G conspiracist Piers Corbyn, brother of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was one of 19 protesters arrested and a further 10 were issued with a fixed-penalty notice. A video has circulated showing what looks like an unjustifiable use of force by one of the arresting officers.

SURVEILLANCE

“You can’t have it both ways: Counter-coronavirus masks may thwart London police plans to deploy creepy facial-recognition cameras across the capital, senior managers have admitted”, The Register wrote. Two London Assembly members wrote to Metropolitan Police commissioner (pdf) Cressida Dick, asking whether the “unreliable, unregulated” technology would be withdrawn during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from that, they said, the technology used relies on people’s full faces being visible – something not possible when most Britons will be wearing masks during the coming months. Scotland Yard currently “looking at any potential issues to establish how it may impact” the roll-out.

COMMENT

Our covid response should be led by doctors, not counter-terror experts, in Left Food Forward by Jenny Jones, Green Party member of the House of Lords and a former deputy mayor of London. Why not let Public Health England dictate the coronavirus response?

Advocacy group CAGE have warned that the current coronavirus pandemic is being exploited by the security industry to create a permanent police state.

Finally, a small detour to the United States today. The NYPD is now using social distancing enforcement as a new pretext for racist police tactics. The New York Times reported: Scrutiny of Social-Distance Policing as 35 of 40 Arrested Are Black. Officials expressed concern about tactics similar to unfair “stop and frisk” practices. This is nothing new, lawyers from the Brooklyn Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society wrote in response. “We see this on a daily basis in our regular work.” It would be interesting to have statistics like this for the UK.

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