On Friday, the Independent reported that more than 100 people have been wrongly prosecuted under coronavirus laws and the number is likely to rise, according to a review. Big Brother Watch revealed that 36 new unlawful Coronavirus Act prosecutions have had to be overturned, and has slightly different figures: 100% of prosecutions, – now 89 in total – under the Coronavirus Act were unlawful. There have also been 26 unlawful prosecutions under the lockdown Regulations. So, in total, 115 prosecutions under emergency laws have been found unlawful.
In addition, around 20,000 lockdown fines were also issued – how many thousands of those were unlawful? We don’t know, because police are refusing to review them.
In various entries in this diary, we have highlighted the creation of online reporting systems for people to denounce their neighbours for alleged coronavirus infractions. Humberside Police, the first to set up such a system, reported that the number of complaints reached 900 a day at its peak. A senior officer said it had been “impossible to attend every complaint” and blamed “‘woolly’ Government guidelines on social distancing had made them open to interpretation”.
On 14 July it was confirmed that wearing a face-covering in shops and supermarkets in England is to become mandatory from 24 July. This new regulation is important because the coronavirus death rate is 75% higher than the general population among male shop workers and 60% higher for women working in shops.
Police chiefs have confirmed they will only act as a ‘last resort’ when it comes to enforcing new face mask rules. Devon and Cornwall Police say they will not respond to calls purely about someone not wearing a face mask, whilst Greater Manchester Police say they are “too busy” to enforce the new regulations – emphasising again that throughout the lockdown, the police have always decided for themselves what regulations they regard as a priority.
Policing of the coronavirus rules remains focused on large events and has invariably led to clashes between police and participants. On Saturday (18 July), Metropolitan Police riot officers attempting to disperse an ‘unlicensed music event’ in Hackney in east London encountered physical resistance. Avon and Somerset Police were unable to shut down a rave at a former RAF base near Bath the same night, which was attended by more than 3,000 people. Essex Police were also warning people not to attend a rave near Colchester.
A mosque in Blackburn is under investigation after “around 250 people” attended a funeral service on 13 July, apparently because of confusion over the current government advice and an assumption that “there were no restrictions on numbers if hygiene and distancing measures were in place”.
The Evening Standard reported that West Mercia Police are “on the hunt for three vegetable pickers, including one who tested positive for coronavirus, who have escaped an imposed lockdown” at a farm in Herefordshire. The force “did not reveal if the escaped workers will face fines under emergency coronavirus laws”.
The government finally admitted it failed to carry out a mandatory data impact assessment before rolling out Test & Trace – one of the most significant personal data gathering exercises of modern times, barrister Matthew Ryder says. It took a threat of litigation on behalf of the Open Rights Group for the Department of Health to acknowledge that Test & Trace was deployed unlawfully.
“A crucial element in the fight against the pandemic is mutual trust between the public and the government, which is undermined by their operating the programme without basic privacy safeguards,” ORG’s executive director, Jim Killock, told the BBC.
To add some confusion to the coronavirus regulations, there are issues with the division between powers of government and local authorities for the new “local lockdown” regime. Barrister Adam Wagner discussed the question whether under the Public Health Act 1984 there is any power to delegate to local authorities at all, while the BBC asked, What closes in a local lockdown?