16 – 23 September Update

There was another avalanche of changes in the coronavirus regulations over the last week, in advance of predictions of the second wave of infections and the next lockdown looming. While we will point at good summaries here, our concern is – as ever – the enforcement by the police.

There remains a complete lack of lessons learned from the earlier lockdown and the government is still approaching the pandemic as a public order issue, rather than a health crisis. This – again – means threats, fines and a push to for the public to snitch on each other, rather than a focus on solidarity, community support and a serious effort to solve access to health care.

Unfortunately, this also means there is a need to continue this blog, to log abuse by the police and misunderstandings of the regulation.

Coercion failed before, it was rightly seen as arbitrary, unfair and in many cases unlawful, but Boris Johnson now says the military could help to enforce the new corona rules.

LEGAL

Since Monday, new rules apply: see What are the new coronavirus restrictions? – an explainer from the BBC that includes the rules for pubs and restaurants.

Any social gathering of more than six people in England is against the law, with people facing fines of up to £3,200 if they do not abide by the new measure, which applies to both indoor and outdoor settings.

On Wednesday, the English face-covering regulations changed again. From Thursday, 24th September, shopworkers and other staff who come into contact with the public are now required to wear a covering. All penalties are doubled to £200. The updated Wikipedia page includes the exemptions.

Parliament is due to the consider the renewal of coronavirus legislation but a cross-party group of MPs has threatened to block powers of detainment. Big Brother Watch has launched a campaign calling for people to lobby their MPs for a repeal of these powers under Schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report on the human rights implications of COVID19 measures on 21 September. The report is the most comprehensive account to date of the human rights issues which have occurred over the lockdown. Its conclusions cover the ambiguity and mixed messaging of government communications; the discrepancy between guidance and regulations; the lack of clarity from ministers; the lack of public understanding; policing and prosecution issues; fixed penalty notices and the egregious lack of an appeal process; the use of emergency powers and the detrimental impact on the right to protest.

With regard to the key focus of this blog, the report says on policing:

“… it is imperative that Government provide sufficient warning of changes to the law, and coordinate with appropriate bodies, so that police forces and bodies such as the NPCC [National Police Chiefs Council] and CoP [College of Policing] have time to understand and explain those changes.”

On fixed penalty notices, it says:

“There is currently no realistic way for people to challenge FPNs which can now result in fines of over £10,000 in some cases. This will invariably lead to injustice as members of the public who have been unfairly targeted with an FPN have no means of redress and police will know that their actions are unlikely to be scrutinised. The Government should introduce a means of challenging FPNs by way of administrative review or appeal.”

See summary in an extensive thread by barrister Adam Wagner (who worked on the report) including the recommendations.

POLICING

As Netpol noted, we have moved from mutual aid to mutual mistrust: six months of relying on coercion to control the spread of coronavirus has led to police apparently inundated with calls from members of the public reporting their neighbours for “rule of six” breaches.

With over 500 reports of people reporting on their neighbours for allegedly breaking #Covid_19 rules in the West Midlands in one week, the local Police & Crime Commissioner wants more powers to allow officers to enter people’s homes if they suspect there is a breach.

From 28 September, people failing to self-isolate if testing positive for the coronavirus or if contacted by the test and trace system will face fines starting at £1000. Again, police will target “offenders in high-incidence areas” based on neighbours snitching on each other.

Greater Manchester Police received intelligence regarding a wedding party in Wythenshawe. Police attended and found that a gazebo had been erected in the garden of a property. Officers prevented the illegal gathering before restrictions were breached.

COMMENT

Under cover of coronavirus, the Tory government is bulldozing basic liberties. John Harris in The Guardian. The Tories have been increasing police powers, bringing in new laws by diktat and sowing mistrust. When will the left speak up?

Renewing emergency Covid powers threatens ‘rights and freedoms’, Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey tell Boris Johnson, The Independent.

Parliament surrendered role over Covid emergency laws, says Lady Hale, The Guardian.

7 – 15 September Update

LEGAL

The government’s new “Rule of Six” has dominated the COVID19 agenda over this week. Announced by the Prime Minister on Wednesday last week to come into force on Monday 14 September, the actual text of the new regulations was published only minutes before midnight on Sunday.

This is even tighter than the introduction of previous regulation changes – and yet again, it has taken place without parliamentary debate or scrutiny.

Since Monday, social gatherings of more than six people (apart from in a wide range of exceptions) are illegal, with people facing fines of up to £3,200 if they do not abide by the measure in indoor and outdoor settings.

The regulations are not just government guidance this time but created by secondary legislation powers – and are again more complicated than before. Even Home Secretary Priti Patel seemed to have lost track of them when on BBC Radio4 Today she was asked if a family of four stopping and chatting with another family of four on the way to the park, she suggested this was “mingling” which is now banned; it is not. Barrister Adam Wagner, who has been trying to understand the ever-changing regulation, has tried to explain what constitutes ‘mingling’, a central theme in the new rules.

The tougher coronavirus rules also include “Covid Secure Marshals” to help enforce them. Boris Johnson encouraged councils to recruit them, use volunteers or existing council staff, but few seemed to have established the roles, The Guardian noted – let alone understand what the Johnson meant with it and where funding would come from.
Importantly, these marshals will have no enforcement powers, which has managed to annoy the Metropolitan Police Federation, its chairman saying it won’t make any difference if you don’t have the ability to enforce.

The Wikipedia article by Michael Maggs on the English Rule of Six regulations includes full details of all the exemptions. It includes a useful table which, under types of gathering makes a useful distinction between ‘Elite sportspeople and coaches’ and ‘Organised non-elite sports’ – which one may think is a joke, but the elite-rule is in the actual law.

An important new report from Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee says the government has not always justified use of emergency powers and is not using the Civil Contingency Act. The report also highlights inaccurate guidance on COVID19 regulation.

POLICING

On Monday morning, Policing Minister Kit Malthouse told Radio 4 neighbours should snitch on each other to police if they suspect a gathering of six. The Metropolitan Police has said it will patrol public spaces across London to enforce the tighter new restrictions.

Police continue to issue draconian £10,000 fines to organisers of parties, including to a teenager in the University of Nottingham campus area of Lenton on 11 September and the organiser of a party attended by 45 people in a marquee in Fylde in Lancashire. A series of gatherings in Manchester, including a wedding and a 60th birthday party, also led to officers issuing smaller, individual fixed penalty notices.

Serial anti-lockdown protester Piers Corbyn has again been charged in relation to protest in Sheffield.

Two members of the Netpol Lawyers Group, Lochlinn Parker of ITN Solicitors and barrister Owen Greenhall of Garden Court Chambers, have summarised the impact of current coronavirus regulations on your right to protest.

The Attorney General has confirmed that a huge number of people have not paid around half of the fixed penalty notices issued to date.

1 – 6 September Update

POLICING

Freedom News has produced a thorough summary of the latest regulations in a post entitled Activism and the law (5 Sep), stating: ‘One of the difficulties of writing anything useful about the law at the moment is that it’s changing so damned quickly. Coronavirus regulations have to be reviewed by the government every 28 days and as a result, we are locked into a rapid refresh cycle in which new, rushed and poorly-drafted laws are imposed on the public – without parliamentary scrutiny – every couple of weeks.’

Freedom News’ section on the current rules on protests lists the three provisions that are  setting out the necessary conditions a protest needs to meet in order to qualify as lawful at this moment in time:

‘There are a number of important exceptions to the general prohibition on both holding – and participating in – gatherings of more than 30 people. Importantly, for our purposes, Regulation 5B(4) stipulates that the prohibition on holding or being involved in the holding of gatherings doesn’t apply if the gathering organiser —

(i) is a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body or a political body,

(ii) has carried out a risk assessment which would satisfy the requirements of regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999(1), whether or not they are subject to those Regulations, and

(iii) has taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, taking into account the risk assessment carried out under paragraph (ii).

The reference to a “political body” in 5B(4)(i) is crucial, as it is this provision which allows for the possibility of lawful protests involving over 30 people.’

While the rules themselves are a balancing act between public health and other human rights, the inconsistent way the police applies them seem to part of a policy attacking the right to freedom of assembly.

After Piers Corbyn was fined £10,000 for organising an anti-lockdown rally last week, the organisers of a demo for Trans Rights were forced to cancel their event. After previously accepting the steps that had been taken to assess and minimise risk, the Metropolitan police called the organisers the day before the demo was due to take place on 5 September, and threatened to arrest anyone involved. Facing huge fines and ‘given the high risk to marginalised groups when encountered by the police’, they called it off.

On Saturday afternoon various groups under the umbrella of Palestine Action gathered to protest outside the head office of Elbit Systems – an Israeli-owned arms company. There were no more than 50 people, and some of those were holding a banner on the opposite side of the road. Police arrived in large numbers – at least 30, and announced that the Greater London Authority (GLA) had issued instructions this weekend to disperse any gatherings of more than 30 people.

As can be seen in this film by Real Media, the police liaison officers assigned to the action seemed to be making up rules as they went along. A spokesperson for the Mayor of London confirmed the police were lying about the new GLA instructions:

‘This is simply not true. Operational policing decisions are a matter for the Metropolitan Police and are taken independently of the Mayor.’

Barrister Adam Wagner in his take on the new rules warns against the chilling effect of the £10,000 mandatory fine for anyone who is found to be “holding” or “involved in the holding” (whatever that means) of a gathering which doesn’t come within the exceptions mentioned above. Many will think twice about organising a protest that would risk the existence of their organisation, financially.

Meanwhile, the official Twitter account of the Prime Minister put out this misleading tweet (using the NHS logo):

Misleading ad by 10 Downing Street

As pointed out above, many gatherings of more than 30 people are perfectly legal, if organised by a business, charity, public authority or political body doing a risk assessment and complying with social distancing guidance.

On 4 September, it was reported that Extinction Rebellion protesters in London had been warned they risk a large fine if they fail to comply with these rules, with the Metropolitan Police saying risk assessments “did not meet the required standard”. It is unclear how the police are qualified to make this kind of health assessment.

The current travel quarantine regulations are far stricter than any of the national or local lockdowns. The rules include an extraordinarily limited set of potential reasons you can leave the place where you are living during the quarantine. No exception is available to take exercise, except perhaps to “avoid injury or illness” which would certainly include mental illness. These regulations are from 8 June (no significant amends since): The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020. 

However, perhaps surprisingly given the enthusiastic enforcement of other powers, The Guardian reported that by 8 August just 10 enforcement orders were issued for breach of UK quarantine rules, while the National Police Chiefs Association reported three fines were issued in August to those failing to self-isolate after arriving in England (there might be an overlap in these figures).

In Merseyside, a train passenger has been charged with threatening behaviour and assaulting a police officer after a row broke out because he refused to wear a face mask. British Transport Police has subsequently said they were responding to allegations the man had been coughing at two other passengers, although a widely-circulated viral video seems to show officers enforcing the masking regulations and the passenger claiming he was exempt from them.

The deputy mayor of Greater Manchester has called for a rethink on policing coronavirus restrictions after revealing that less than half of local lockdown fines have been paid.

RESOURCES

Trying to follow the changes to the English lockdown regulations? Michael Maggs is updating Wikipedia with near-daily summaries of the actual enforceable Regulations – (so not the guidance). Main page for the Healthcare Regulations (Coronavirus, Restrictions); The various local lockdown regulations; Wearing of face coverings on public transport; Wearing of face coverings in a Relevant Place.

25 – 31 August Update

POLICING

As we predicted last week, the coronavirus regulations are now being used to threaten people organising demonstrations.

New rules came into force in England on Friday ahead of the bank holiday weekend and on Sunday, Piers Corbyn was fined £10,000 for organising an anti-lockdown rally under the law restricting gatherings of more than 30 people.

The ways the powers are used in this instance was completely disproportional, as regulations allow political gatherings when organisers provide the required risk assessment. Piers Corbyn plans to challenge the fine in court and says he filled out the necessary forms after two weeks of negotiating with the police. It’s hard to see what issuing this fine achieved, apart from sending a chilling warning to other protest organisers.

Corbyn’s fine comes after the Met last week dropped a threat to investigate the organiser of another protest on suspicion of breaching coronavirus regulations. Police wrote to Ken Hinds, a community activist based in Haringey, north London, after he asked them to help facilitate a protest march from Notting Hill to Hyde Park on Sunday, warning him that by merely publicising the protest he may have already broken the law.

It took an urgent legal challenge accusing the Met of discrimination, for the force to back down and admit that Hinds and his organisation, Communities Against Violence, did fit the criteria of a ‘political body’, as outlined under the regulations. ITNSolicitors said that ‘this case has clarified that protests called by campaign organisations are not unlawful gatherings, as long the group has completed an adequate assessment of the public health risks of the protest’.

On Wednesday, Dyfed-Powys Police used powers to disperse a group of about 200 young people gathering in Burry Port, near Llanelli. The force said it had intelligence to suggest a further gathering was being planned over the bank holiday weekend.

A number of raves were broken up over the weekend, with parties in the middle of nowhere ended by the police or officers staying at the premises to keep an eye on things.

In Thetford Forest in Norfolk, more than 500 people attended a rave that was shut down by police in riot gear.

A rural rave in south Wales at Banwen attracted 3,000 people from around Britain, with the two organisers receiveing a  £10,000 fixed penalty fine each. Officers also penalised people for “using their vehicles in an antisocial manner” near the site of the rave in Neath Port Talbot.

West Yorkshire Police said eight people were fined £10,000 for holding parties in the Headingley and Burley areas of Leeds, including two DJs – taking their equipement. A music event at Beaver Works in Leeds was also closed down on Sunday following reports it was in breach of coronavirus restrictions.

Police in Harlow, Essex, also seized thousands of pounds worth of gear ahead of an unlicensed music event on Saturday afternoon. They are looking for the organiser to take them to court. Ch Insp Lewis Basford has clearly chosen for a no-nonsense approach, saying: “My final message is to the organisers: we will seize the equipment – I don’t care if you’ve hired it from someone or if it’s yours, we will break up your event, and we can now fine you up to £10,000.”

West Midlands Police said it had dealt with about 90 reports of possible breaches of restrictions, but had not had to use its enforcement powers as they were mainly dealing with house parties.

Attention is now focused on how planned Extinction Rebellion demonstrations will be policed this week. (If you are taking part in next week’s XRebellionUK protests in London, Cardiff and Manchester, let us know if you experience oppressive policing, please get in touch with Netpol.)

The regulations on holding gatherings were published on 27th August, as usual long after they were introduced on 21th August. Barrister Adam Wagner is keeping a table of all of the national/local lockdown regulations – according to him these are the 24th passed with no parliamentary scrutiny, over one per week since the lockdown began.

In this thread, Wagner explains that it is already unlawful to participate in gatherings of over 30 people in private dwellings or public places subject to some pretty detailed exceptions – but if you are caught doing that, the fines start at £100 and can rise to £3,200 for six offences.

What the new regulations seek is to massively up the ante for those who ‘hold or [are] involved in the holding of a gathering’ – they now risk getting a £10,000 fine, whether it’s a rave or another event of more than 30 people. Political gatherings are exempt, but cooperation with the police is required and filling out a risk assesment for the event is obligatory. But still then – as the events of this week show – you run the risk of getting into problems.

From 28 August, Police Scotland officers have been given the power to break up indoor house parties with more than 15 people in commercial properties – up from eight people under the last regulations.

17 – 24 August Update

POLICING

Police in England are now – since Friday 21th August – able to fine organisers of illegal gatherings of more than 30 people up to £10,000. This includes raves, but it may also include protests. (If you are a protest organiser threatened with a fine, please contact Netpol). Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can set their own enforcement rules.

This weekend, the BBC reported, police in Birmingham disrupted more than 70 unlicensed social gatherings including house and street parties, one of which featured marquees and a DJ.

In Huddersfield, officers broke up an illegal rave involving about 300 people.

Two police vehicles were damaged and four people arrested after officers broke up a party breaking lockdown rules in Greater Manchester, where restrictions between households continue.

About 50 people were at the gathering at a house, which had a gazebo set up with loud speakers, music equipment and party lights, Greater Manchester Police said.

And in Blackburn, Lancashire, where extra restrictions are also in force, more than 150 people gathered for a rave at a reservoir.

Stricter new measures designed to stop the spread of coronavirus in the North West have been branded “confusing”. Residents in Oldham and parts of Blackburn and Pendle have been told not to socialise with other households. The BBC has more detail. Local council leaders said it was “unclear” how the rule would be implemented and policed and urged the government to issue detailed guidance. The new guidelines were leaked to a local newspaper before the government’s official confirmation on Friday afternoon.

As of 19th August, more businesses were able to re-open in Leicester, including nail bars, tanning salons, spas & outdoor pools. Yet again, new Regulations have been published at the last minute, giving businesses and residents little time to prepare, while the instructions are – yet again – confusing, see thread by LeicesterLive politics correspondent Dan Martin. This change comes after the original Regulations “were reviewed on Monday 17 August” – which can be taken with a pinch of salt, according to Martin. Reviews are legally required of both national and local lockdowns, but to date, neither the public or Parliament has seen any of them.

Emergency coronavirus powers have been used by police in Scotland more than 62,000 times. People living in the most deprived areas were up to 12 times more likely to be given fines. The Scottish Police Authority heard that in the vast majority of cases – 94% – no action was taken.

The CPS has released its fourth review of charges under the lockdown lawsYet again, every single charge under the Coronavirus Act was found to be unlawful.  Another 21 cases under the Health Protection Regulations were also withdrawn, meaning a total of 47 charges have been overturned. This means 13% of charges under the Regulations in July were unlawful. In June it was 6%. Clearly, lessons are not being learned by police or prosecutors. 

 

6 – 16 August Update

POLICING

The continued focus of public order policing of the coronavirus pandemic in Britain over the last fortnight has been on ‘raves’ or illegal gatherings. Police forces are increasing patrols of potential hotspots and have carried out raids of unlicensed events in Birmingham, the Sussex coast, Manchester, Cheshire and Accrington.

Police in Manchester have warned against A level parties, saying fixed penalty notices could be issued, which in the circumstances of huge numbers of students having their results downgraded by a disastrous class-biased algorithm, does seem somewhat tactless.

During the heatwave that saw temperatures break records, police were warning of coronavirus ‘super-spreader’ events. Police in Scotland reportedly increased patrols of beaches and issued antisocial behaviour warnings. In West Yorkshire, the warnings have already begun for the August Bank Holiday weekend and Devon and Cornwall Police have warned holidaymakers that both counties are now full.

The prospects of a second wave of infections are looming and Bedfordshire Police is already urging the public to stay at home as much as possible after the government listed Bedford as an ‘area of concern’ following the rise in coronavirus numbers in the town. In nearby Northamptonshire, Chief Constable Nick Adderley – who in April made a number of colourful remarks threatening roadblocks and searches of shopping trolleys to combat breaches of lockdown rules – has said that it is “odds-on” that Northampton will return to a lockdown in the next six months and is “teetering on the edge of that.”

The Times has reported that British Transport Police spoke to 28,964 people for travelling without a face covering between 13 and 25 July, with 1,605 told to leave the rail network and 33 penalty notices issued.

Instead of blanket measures involving increased policing seen in other cities where there has been an increase in new cases of infection, Liverpool tried a different approach. When a surge of cases was noticed in one ward, the local council implemented an “enhanced outbreak control action plan” on just a few dozen streets with volunteers knocking on doors telling people to get a test if they have symptoms and to remind them of the rules. The council was able to do this because of new powers given to local authorities to impose targeted restrictions at a hyper-localised level. See this thread by Jane Merrick.

New coronavirus restrictions requiring face coverings in more locations, as usual published the day before they came into force 8th August. The Muslim Council has put out guidance on face coverings for mosques, given these changes.

SURVEILLANCE

The government paid AI firm Faculty £400k to spy on social media posts over three months of the pandemic to identify political “risks” and “trends” using machine learning. Big Brother Watch discovered the unredacted version of the contract with Faculty, the company linked to Dominic Cummings and Vote Leave.

RESOURCES

Data Justice and COVID-19: Global Perspectives, edited by Linnet Taylor et al. Edited volume, free to download: ‘The essays provide a global perspective on the implications of these developments for justice: they make it possible to compare how the intersection of state and corporate power—and the way that power is targeted and exercised—confronts, and invites resistance from, civil society in countries worldwide.’ Chapter on the UK: Pandemics, power, and publics: trends in post-crisis health technology, Silvia Mollicchi, Aidan Peppin, Cansu Safak, and Tom Walker

30 July – 5 August 2020 Update

POLICING

On 30 July, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced new coronavirus regulations on social gatherings affected a number of areas in the north of England, including Greater Manchester and large parts of West Yorkshire and Lancashire. This “northern lockdown” began on 31 July and meant that people in these areas were no longer permitted to mix with other households (apart from those in their support bubbles) in private homes or gardens. However, no guidance was available when these restrictions started, leaving the police complaining that they had no time to prepare for enforcing the new rules and have insufficient powers to implement the lockdown.

It was reported that police in Burton in Staffordshire were granted dispersal powers “in response to the coronavirus outbreak which has seen dozens of cases in one part of town”.

In Scotland, extra police were on patrol after a coronavirus cluster forced a new local lockdown in Aberdeen.

There has been further press coverage of warnings about the pandemic triggering widespread public disorder, focusing on a paper (PDF) considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) shortly before pubs reopened in England.

The Metropolitan Police announced their intention to impose conditions on unauthorised road closures during the weekend’s Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March in Brixton, in order to prevent gatherings of over 30 people in breach of the coronavirus regulations. In the event, there were only three arrests – and none were under these powers.

LEGAL

The government announced plans to extend the current rules on wearing face coverings on 8 August.

Five days after the north of England lockdown was announced, the legal regulations underpinning it was finally published by the government on 4 August.

COMMENT

Discretion and fairness should be the beating heart of enforcement – Kirsty Brimelow QC in The Times

RESOURCES

On 1 August, Big Brother Watch published its fourth monthly Emergency Powers & Civil Liberties report, July 2020 (PDF)

20-29 July 2020 Update

POLICING

The latest figures released by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) show that men aged 18 to 34 from ethnic minority groups were twice as likely to be fined for breaching lockdown coronavirus regulations as young White men.

This confirmation of racial disparity is included in a report, “Policing the Pandemic: Detailed analysis on police enforcement of the Public Health Regulations and an assessment on disproportionality across ethnic groups” (PDF) published on 27 July. Although the NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt said it was “a concern to see disparity” in a letter sent to Big Brother Watch, he added that “fines were issued to those who, despite officers’ best efforts, refused to follow the rules that we know have saved lives”.

This is a deflection from allegations made repeatedly about racist policing – and as this diary has provided ample evidence of in the last five months, fines were often issued in quite different circumstances to the one Hewitt has suggested. Hewitt also rejects the call for a national review of all FPNs on the basis that the NPCC feels police forces have adopted a “proportionate approach” and fines are scrutinised internally.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, the area that has issued more fixed penalty notices for breaches of coronavirus legislation than any other force in England and Wales, has issued her own report. It confirms that whilst Black and minority communities make up only 3.4% of the population, officers issued 20% of fines to individuals from these communities. It blames outsiders travelling into the area and denies that officers were “particularly targeting BAME” while at the same time stating there is “no definitive explanation as to why BAME feature so significantly”.

Officers from Police Scotland have visited a hairdressing salon in Fife that is refusing to enforce face coverings, as the owner claims he has evidence that coronavirus is a hoax.

Devon and Cornwall’s Police Federation chair claims the coronavirus has ‘weaponised’ spitting at officers.

Met Commissioner Cressida Dick irresponsibly said, “people who are not compliant [with the requirement to wear face masks in shops from Friday] will be shamed into complying.” She told LBC that the Met Police will only enforce people wearing masks in shops “as a last resort”. Big Brother Watch reminded her of the exemptions to the requirement to wear a face mask*, especially for those with disabilities. It’s wrong to encourage bullying behaviour. In Scotland, a lawyer with hidden disabilities was harassed and refused entry to shops without a face mask

*(on public transport, likely also to apply in shops – the new regulations are still unpublished)

RESOURCES

The government has published its response to the Home Affairs Committee report from April on Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 (coronavirus): Policing.

 

14-19 July Update

POLICING

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”.

LEGAL

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?

 

10 – 13 July Update

POLICING

Data released by the National Police Chiefs Council has confirmed that not one single person was fined by police in England and Wales for breaching quarantine rules requiring people arriving in the UK to self-isolate for 14 days, over the first two weeks since these rules were introduced.

The figures also show that between 23 June and 6 July, the number of fixed penalty fines issued in England had fallen to 97 and to 57 in Wales. Up to 22 June, 10 fines were also issued across England and Wales regarding face coverings on public transport regulations. All fines were issued by British Transport Police.

 

Data on the ethnicity of those who have been issued a fine indicate that around one in eight (12%) were given to those identifying as Asian and 4% to those identifying as Black. These figures do not include 16% of fixed penalty notices where the ethnicity of the individual issued with the notice was unknown (17% for England and 7% for Wales). The full breakdown of these statistics is available here (PDF).

Black people in London are four times more likely to be tasered and were twice as likely to get a Covid-19 fine. David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, summarised the government’s policy on tackling COVID19, saying: ‘Shocking statistics showing disproportionality require action. This must be a turning point’. The Guardian in an editorial says London’s top police officer is in denial about a counterproductive stop-and-search policy

The next battle over enforcement of coronavirus rules seems likely to centre on the wearing of face masks in shops, which the government has indicated is likely to become compulsory in England and Wales on 24 July. The Sunday Times reported retailers are reluctant to enforce these rules “because they do not want shop staff to have to act as store detectives”. The Metropolitan Police Federation has, meanwhile, called the rules “unenforceable” and said, “we can’t drive around looking for people not wearing masks” (although past experience documented on this blog suggests this is exactly what we may see). In Scotland, where face masks became compulsory on Friday, people must wonder what all the fuss is about: it was reported that there was “extremely high” compliance with the new regulations and no fines were issued.

Meanwhile, the focus of policing health regulations has remained on large gatherings. Dispersal powers were used by South Wales Police on a group of about 200 young people gathered for a party at a Gower beauty spot, while there were confrontations with police in Shoreham in Sussex and West Midlands Police broke up an unlicenced rave in Walsall.