21 – 22 April Update

POLICING

Like Sussex Police, Dorset Police is still advising people to avoid driving for their daily exercise if possible, even though last week the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the professional standards body the College of Policing published a document that categorically stated it is “lawful to drive for exercise”. Apparently, Dorset Police have a very strict interpretation of the regulations and the law. Baroness Jenny Jones posted a photo of a gate, writing: “This notice you have put up is inaccurate. People can exercise as often as they like. Nothing in law prevents them. You are repeating ministerial comments which have no force in law.”

Yesterday, Police Scotland clarified lockdown rules saying that, unlike south of the border, measures have not changed since lockdown was introduced. People in Scotland are still not allowed to drive in order to exercise, you can only leave your house once to do this, you can take a rest, but not too long. Scottish people are not allowed to visit friends at their homes, even if they need to “cool off” after an argument.

Meanwhile some police forces are deleting their own tweets about enforcements of coronavirus regulations. A tweet by Thames Valley Police boasting about how many cars they were stopping disappeared after David Allen Green asked on what was the legal basis for these stops. Luckily someone made a screenshot, while their colleagues in Reading retweeted a later boast about four different ‘vehicle stop checks’. Advice from the NPCC says: “Road checks on every vehicle is equally disproportionate.”

An example of overheated policing, shared by Matt Cole, was of “a tiny verbal disagreement leads to tons of cops (3 vans & 5 cars, 1 unmarked) descending onto to my estate, violently harassing residents. Completely disproportionate. A group of them forced their way into a house and pulled a young man out before throwing him to the ground”. Coles overheard a police officer from his window “saying they had a report that there were “30 people fighting with knives”. I watched what was actually happening and it was about six people having a heated argument and some shouting before dispersing”.

A pensioner and retired social worker were assaulted by a police officer in the pandemic for no reason whatsoever. She was not arrested, but Thames Valley Police did no keep any distance. She had just asked a HS2 worker about a barn owl nest at this location. Video of the incident. Ann told Lizzy Williams: “I’m alright. All I wanted to know was if the bats & the owls in the barn were going to be looked after properly, but the #HS2 workers simply turned their backs on and sent the police out on me. If he bent my arm any further he would have broken it. I’m only 8 stone”. The National Eviction Team at Crackley Wood forcefully restrained an ancient woodlands protector who was trying to record the excessive violence, again, no distance was kept. (see video)

COMMENT

Coronavirus discriminates against Black lives through surveillance, policing and the absence of health data, Beverly Bain, OmiSoor Dryden and Rinaldo Walcott in The Conversation.

Daniel Trottier reflects on neighbourhood vigilance & vigilantism during the COVID-19 pandemic: does scrutiny & denunciation combine both entertainment & justice-seeking? In Open Book Blog.

Coronavirus Act labelled “draconian” in Civicus Monitor, tracking civic space.

RESOURCES

A Useful report from The Institute of Government’s Raphael_Hogarth on parliament’s role during the pandemic with a timeline of recent emergency laws.

Tom Hickman offers eight ways to reinforce and revise the lockdown law

Francis_Hoar argues that the nationwide lockdown is not proportionate under human rights law

“Coronavirus and Human Rights: Policing, Surveillance and Detention in a Pandemic”: a @HumanRightsLawA online event with @DoughtyStPublic’s @Kirsty_Brimelow, @matrixchambers’s Chris Buttler and @libertyhq’s @Hannah_Couchman. 12th May at 4pm. Sign up at via Eventbrite

20 April Update

POLICING

Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths president of the Police Superintendents’ Association warned today that police must prepare for a “more volatile and agitated society” after the end of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown.

Perhaps appropriately, therefore, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) of the House of Commons and the House of Lords met to examine the enforcement of the lockdown and the confusion between law and guidance (can be watched here). This was its first remote hearing.

Minister for Justice Robert Buckland was asked whether he was worried about the way the police are enforcing the new powers in the Coronavirus Act, whether he was worried about human rights being compromised and how high a priority this is for the government.

Buckland responded, “The question of the balance between rights and proportionality has been at the heart of our deliberations.”

Committee chair Harriett Harman asked: “What role are you taking in monitoring the implementation of the Coronavirus Act?” Buckland’s answer was again very unspecific: “[The] Key line of accountability is the Government Legal Department reporting to the Attorney General on how measures being implemented. My role is as political antennae of government. Rather than my acting as an early warning system, individual Ministers must take responsibility.”

Karen Buck MP said, “We are using the criminal law here to enforce the lockdown effectively. The consequences of that is profound. It is incredibly important that we get things right as people will have a criminal record if found guilty under this legislation.” The Secretary of State conceded that “we are getting examples of failure by the investigating authority to apply the law/principle properly. But we have the independent judiciary/court system which deals with the issues and makes the necessary rulings”.

Buckland also warned police not to “name and shame” people who flout lockdown laws unless they’ve been convicted. “If in doubt, don’t,” he told the  Committee, but also said that police sharing large group photos is okay to show general “poor behaviour”.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in London, there was a report of “a whole squadron” of Metropolitan Police pulling over vehicles on Tower Bridge but targetting only cars driven by black men. The Met Contact Centre replied on Twitter that her observations was passed to the local police officer. Others responded with similar observations, but there was the usual backlash of denial and distraction from supporters of the police on Twitter.

The Lancashire Police officer captured on camera over the weekend threatening to arrest a man on a fabricated offence has been suspended and the force has decided the matter is serious enough to make a voluntary referral to the Independent Office of Police Conduct.

Lancashire Police Statement 20 April 2020

COMMENT

Inside the COVID-19 State: Protecting Public Health Through Law Enforcement, Dr Lambros Fatsis, Criminology at the University of Brighton in The BSC Blog.

Liz Fekete of the Institute of Race Relations interviewed Suresh Grover & Dorothea Jones from The MonitoringGroup (TMG), asking: are race hate crimes now the collateral damage of COVID19?

We need Big Brother to beat this virus, argues former Downing Street speechwriter Clare Foges in the Times (paywall). Foges previously argued (wrongly) back in March that the public is “too selfish to stop coronavirus spreading” and that this required the government to take more draconian steps.

PRISONS

The Minister of Justice has confirmed that there have been 13 confirmed dead, with 298 prisoners tested positive for the coronavirus across 67 jails. 

18 – 19 April Update

POLICING

There was widespread national media coverage of a video shared on Twitter showing a Lancashire Police officer threatening to fabricate a charge to detain a young man up, saying “I’ll lock you up… We’ll make something up… who are they going to believe, me or you?” in what Netpol called an unusual moment of transparency

As a thread by David Allen Green pointed out, Police Twitter “followed the usual trajectory” of bad-faith efforts to discredit the video or claim it was unrepresentative, but Lancashire police have apologised and launched an investigation. 

Lancashire Police statement

Despite fresh guidance from the National Police Chiefs Council on lockdown measures issued last week, Dorset Police plans to ignore them and will not be making changes to its enforcement of travel. A network representing police and crime commissioners from rural areas is lobbying against the revised, less rigid freedom of movement guidelines. North Yorkshire’s Julia Mulligan, who chairs the network, calls the revisions “hugely unhelpful”.

Meanwhile, over the weekend there were further reports of the kind of arbitrary and often petty demands by police to move people along.

In Stoke-on-Trent, police have been asked to step up patrols to stop so-called ‘lockdown loiterers’. One woman commented on how she had told police community support officers in her area that sniping at women who are walking was unprofessional. In Clissold Park in Hackney in east London, two police officers were photographed telling a black man who was exercising to leave whilst ignoring a white man was practicing handstands nearby.

In Birmingham, police confronted a family from the same household and told them to stop eating dinner together on their own driveway. West Midlands Police say they used a ‘common sense’ approach “to stop people flouting orders to stay at home”.

In the north of Ireland, the mother of a child with special needs in County Down said that had PSNI officers had ordered her to leave her front garden and stay indoors, even though no one from another household was present. The following day she was again sitting in the garden when two police cars pulled up and officers told her that a neighbour had reported her for being seated in her garden.

After numerous forces have set up reporting mechanisms enabling people to denounce their neighbours for alleged lockdown infractions, the police are now calling for an end to ‘lockdown-shaming’ as a weapon in feuds. Forces are receiving thousands of complaints about rule-breaking and fear many are used to settle scores.

Following the condemnation of police gathering on Westminster Bridge last week, there have been further examples of officers in London failing to observe the physically distancing rules that everyone else is urged to follow, such as in New Cross where around 50 police officers gathered outside Queens Rd Fire Station and Special Constables in south London posing for a promotional photo.

COMMENT

“Police Twitter pages boasting about their corona patrols finding a small piece of cannabis, or regulating what they consider are “essential” items for someone’s supermarket trolley appears to show they are enjoying the new status” argues Plan C.

“It might be tempting for some to search for a law enforcement solution to the pandemic”, says the ACLU’s New York chapter, but “we should always remember that police officers are not health care workers and they should not be on the front lines of solving this crisis. In some instances, they can make things worse.

 

Northwich Guardian: “Police want us to report lockdown breaches – but is it the right thing to do?

17 April Update

The Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons has said the police must stop overstepping their powers under new coronavirus laws in order to maintain public trust. MPs have identified errors “through social media and press reporting”, and called for forces to “ensure that there are proper checks in place”. It adds:

It is vital that all forces and all officers understand the distinction between Government advice and legal requirement, and that the tone and tactics they use are appropriate to each. Failing to do so depletes public trust.

The Committee’s report, “Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 (Coronavirus): Policing”, is available here. The oral evidence to the Committee is available here.

There has been widespread condemnation that at a time when police are rigorously and often arbitrarily enforcing physical distancing and lockdown movement rules in parks and beauty spots around the country, the same rules did not apply when a crowd of police and members of the public were allowed to gather on Westminster Bridge for the ‘Clap For Carers’ initiative at 8pm yesterday evening.

As one Netpol member group, Activist Court Aid Brigade pointed out, it was difficult to argue that this police behaviour was the result of a lack of supervision when Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick was present in person.

There were similar scenes in South Yorkshire and in Fife of police officers ignoring physical distancing to take part in organised clapping.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, one user complained that her son was told “to go home by a PCSO whilst he was on his BMX, as she decided it didn’t count as exercise as “he wasn’t sweating”. He’d just finished an 8-hour shift as an essential worker too”.

In Scotland, a disabled woman, who lives in a sheltered housing complex in Edinburgh, was left in tears and feeling worried after police warned she may be fined for having too many visitors.

In West Yorkshire, there has been a surge in “neighbours snitching on lockdown flouters”. Writing for Vice, Ruby Lott-Lavigna says we are living through the “Golden Age of Snitching”. as the British public are encouraged to report on their neighbours.

PRISONS

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust have written to the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, setting out a proposed judicial review of his plans for reducing the prison population, warning of a “public health catastrophe” if the release of prisoners is not accelerated. The Prison Reform Trust claims only 18 prisoners have so far been released from jails in England and Wales.

As of 5pm yesterday, the number of infected prisoners stood at 255 across 62 prisons, an increase of 10%in 24 hours. There were also 138 prison staff tested positive for the coronavirus across 49 prisons, a 43% increase over the same period.

RESOURCES

There has been considerable coverage in the local press over the last 24 hours (see this example) of Google’s latest Covid-19 Community Mobility Report (PDF, dated 11 April), which shows changes in movement in terms of transport, public spaces (such as parks and beaches) and shops. It gives an indication of how well the public is sticking to coronavirus lockdown measures.

16 April Update

POLICING

The BBC’s Home Affairs Correspondent Danny Shaw has reported on revisions to guidelines for officers from the National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing that seem even more complex than before. Officers in England are told they can stop people working in parks or sitting on a park bench for a long time and now says driving to the countryside for a walk is “reasonable” if “far more time” is spent walking than driving, but that driving for a “prolonged period with only brief exercise” is not reasonable.

The latest guidance for officers (as of today, 16 April 2020) is available here.

The National Police Chiefs Council also has published a full breakdown on where fines for breaches of government public health regulations were issued by police officers in England between 27 March and the 13 April 2020.

Lockdown fines in England from 27 March to 13 April 2020

There are also limited statistics for Welsh forces covering the four days of the Easter bank holiday weekend:

Lockdown fines issued by Welsh forces over Easter 2020

In total, police in England have issued 3203 fines over this 18 day period.

To put this into some kind of context, Netpol noted that police forces in England issued the equivalent of 15% of all the 20,800 penalty notices for disorder issued for both England and Wales in the 12 months to March 2019 (for reference see these Ministry of Justice quarterly Criminal Justice Statistics, page 3).

By far the highest number lockdown of fines was issued by Lancashire Police. Other forces that issued over 200 fines were Thames Valley and Surrey

Forces had to withdraw 39 fines mistakenly issued to children.

In further reports on the way lockdown powers are implemented by the police, one woman in London told how she was approached by two police officers at her allotment “who had climbed over the fence (into private property) because a “concerned member of the public” had emailed to alert them to “possible sunbathing”.

In Glasgow, another member of the public described how they were threatened with a fine by officers after resting because they were in pain. They were told “you’re not disabled” by the officers, who failed to themselves comply with physical distancing. Officers might, it was suggested, want to “google invisible disabilities or maybe get them to do something useful instead!”

The journalist Michael Segalov, who was last week hassled and shouted at by the police for filming an incident in Finsbury Park in north London, has now released the footage and written about his experience.

SURVEILLANCE

It was announced today that restrictions on where police can fly drones have been relaxed due to the lockdown. Drones weighing under 2kg can be flown within 10 metres of people and objects, or 20 metres for heavier drones. The usual minimum distance is 50 metres.

LEARN FROM THE PAST

A gem found in an archival dig into the so-called “Spanish” influenza pandemic in Canada in 1918. Instructions to magistrates included this: “The presence of the police in an attempt to enforce quarantine would create more panic.” (St Johns Telegram, 1918. h/t @carlottatweets)

OPINION

Heavy-handed police are enforcing restrictions that do not exist in law, Chris Henley, QC, The Times

War and the Coronavirus Pandemic – Catherine Connolly reflects on the use of war metaphors in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic

Are civil liberties being curtailed by new policing powers? And are different communities being treated equally? A podcast from Unlock Democracy featuring Netpol’s coordinator.

Ahead of the government’s review today of the lockdown law, Adam Wagner asks Can we make good laws during a bad pandemic? To safeguard liberty, all emergency powers should meet these four tests. In The Prospect.

RESOURCES

Bristol Defendant Solidarity has just released a ‘Know Your Rights’ guide which covers (the English version of) the new regulations about public gatherings and when people are allowed to leave the house.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergency (SAGE) brief on the role of behavioural science in pandemic planning generally and a return for COBR on public disorder from its SPI-B group make interesting reading for those interested in #PolicingTheCoronaState. Analysis in thread by Mark Roodhouse

Like counter-terrorism, there is a risk that measures taken during these “extraordinary times” may become normalised once the threat has passed. New Briefing from @soas by Rob Faure Walker.

OpenDemocracy published a round-up of how around the world, women, minorities and other marginalised groups are often disproportionately affected by draconian curbs on their rights.

14-15 April Update

POLICING

Coastal police forces are using number plate tracking technology to identify and fine “holidaymakers” who have driven to their areas. Sussex Police issued more than 100 fixed penalty notices to people from outside the county and more than 50 fixed penalty notices to day-trippers in Brighton living outside Sussex.

An Aberdeen surfer was fined by police for exercising at the beach, just metres from his home like he does every day. A police officer stopped him and said in his opinion it wasn’t an appropriate form of exercise and that if anything happened to him it would potentially give the NHS more work. He was issued with a £60 fine, which would reduce to £30 if paid promptly. Meanwhile, many other people still surfing in Cornwall with no fines issued and with police even agreeing it was an acceptable form of exercise

In Edinburgh, a student who paused his daily stroll for a bit on The Meadows was told to move on within five minutes. After he complained about the officer not keeping the appropriate 1,5m distance approaching him, he got a phone call from the police with apologies.

Despite acknowledging that the public is heeding advice to stay home, Shropshire Police becomes the latest force to launch an online reporting form enabling people to denounce their neighbours for alleged lockdown restrictions.

In an indication that encouraging people to denounce their neighbours can create new problems, a nurse in Cambridgeshire returned from a 12-hour shift to find a note telling her she is “a disgrace and has been reported”. In Derbyshire, neighbours called police to report on a family having a drink – in their own garden – to remember a father who died last month.

A coalition of groups including Netpol, the London Campaign against Police and State Violence (LCAPSV), The Monitoring Group and StopWatch have put together resources for communities around the new police powers, with the leaflet ‘Let’s look out for each other’ as a first result (available for download).

pink flyer front

Someone who posted the pink flyer in their local Covid-19 Mutual Aid group in Hertfordshire received a message from the police requesting its removal. An officer said, “There is a line at the bottom about perceived inappropriate police behaviour. As a frontline, local police Sgt, I find this outrageous in these unprecedented and trying times. […] this poster is basically excusing any teenager to be outside, putting everyone at risk, while planting the seed for people to complain about the police“.

response pink flyer

Rich Bryant responded saying: “My mum is a member and collects prescriptions for the infirmary in her rural village. Wiltshire Police have now stopped her twice and demanded to search her bags for “non-essential items”.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) told the Manchester Evening News they were called to 1,008 reports of people having house parties and gatherings in Greater Manchester over the Easter weekend.

COURTS

A 21-year-old man has been wrongly convicted under coronavirus laws, the Metropolitan Police have admitted, as concerns grow over the use of emergency powers. He was incorrectly charged with an offence under a section of the Coronavirus Act 2020 that relates to ‘potentially infectious persons’, which was not applicable in this instance.

OPINION

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Liberal Democrat Member of the Scottish Parliament, argues that emergency powers must only be temporary in How Covid-19 us a gift to would-be dictators.

RESOURCES

What are your legal rights in Scotland under the Coronavirus laws? By Aamer & Anwar solicitors.

Guide to help young people stay safe during the Coronavirus lockdown, by Account Hackney.

11-13 April Easter Weekend Update

POLICING

The predictions last week by senior police officers that more and more people would flout the rules over the Easter bank holiday weekend – and that they might require tough coronavirus lockdown restrictions – proved unfounded. By and large, people have listened to reminders to stay home and practice physical distancing when they need to go out. Streets in cities from London and Liverpool to Newcastle and Edinburgh were deserted and there was as much emphasis in local news reports this weekend on some people driving at high speeds on empty roads.

Nevertheless, the police have continued to warn they are keeping a watchful eye on the public – and that included using a “sky talk” drone in Sussex and Surrey to broadcast government guidance messages at people or even to have officers were waiting in the shadows, ready to pounce on people in rural Bedfordshire.

The emphasis this weekend has been on how the police have interpreted the lockdown restrictions. Late on Friday, Netpol shared a series of videos [here, here and here] from an incident in Fallowfield in Manchester showing the violent arrest of a man who was delivering food to his mother. During the course of this, another woman was arrested and police used PAVA incapacitant spray.

Eventually, Greater Manchester Police was forced to issue an apology and this incident was publicly condemned by the nationwide Covid-19 Mutual Aid network, who said the man who was arrested had “rightfully referenced the Mutual Aid movement to defend his right to provide support, and it is worrying to hear that this was ignored”.

GMP statement

Widely circulated but without details of where and when it happened, is this video of police smashing in a resident’s door to see if there was a party – apparently acting on a call they had from neighbours.

There were numerous less dramatic reports made on social media about the police demanding people move on: in Hampshire while resting during a cycle ride, using a gated communal garden outside their block or driving to a park with a baby. An incident where a young woman was told to stop feeding her baby while out walking in the park in Brighton has been denied by Sussex Police,

In Chesterfield, police had to issue an apology to a disabled man for ‘misunderstanding’ over gardening after his friend was threatened with a fine for helping him, despite the government advice specifically listing support for vulnerable people as a reason to leave home.

In Glasgow, a disabled woman returning home very heavy groceries was threatened with a fine for sitting down to rest because she “wasn’t exercising”.

Over the weekend, it was reported by Netpol that earlier this month, one hospital trust has said it was forced to intervene with Cambridgeshire police after officers stopped staff on their way to work and told them NHS ID cards were insufficient evidence of essential travel.

Solicitor Steve George reported that he had dealt with a client at a court hearing who was accosted by officers for sitting on a bench eating biscuits. He told them to ‘take a hike’ and was arrested last Thursday, but because his case was not heard until Saturday afternoon, he spent two days in custody for not showing enough “respect”.

On 11 April, NPCC chair Martin Hewitt revealed that 1084 penalty fines have been imposed by 37 forces in England and Wales on those flouting COVID-19 restrictions.

SURVEILLANCE

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced plans for a Bluetooth-based NHS coronavirus contact-tracing app that will warn users if they have recently been in close proximity to someone suspected to have the infected.

The Guardian reported that a memo has discussed giving ministers the power to ‘de-anonymise’ users of any new contact-tracing app. Equally alarming is evidence that technology firms like Palantir are processing large volumes of confidential UK patient information in a data-mining operation with profound privacy concerns.

The government insists such data will be anonymised. However, Ross Anderson from the University of Cambridge points out in his blog “Light Blue Touchpaper”, contact tracing in the real world is never anonymous and there are a number of ways it can produce misleading results.

Separately, there were reports this weekend that biometric ID cards are back on the table for any lockdown exit strategy.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that some experts are saying growth in surveillance may be hard to scale back after the pandemic. Even ex-Director of MI5, (Lord) Jonathan Evans, argues that if the British government wishes to go down this road, it must agree that openness, oversight and accountability are the mandatory price for doing so.

COMMENT

Is the ‘war on Covid-19’ morphing into a war on the poor? Liz Fekete, Institute of Race Relations.

Watch: Are We Vesting Too Much Power in Governments and Corporations in the Name of Covid-19? With Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.

Covid-19 ‘immunity certificates’: practical and ethical conundrums, Henry Greely.

Thinking of reporting someone’s lockdown behaviour? Think again. Police forces are overwhelmed with reports of breaches. We need to be very careful what this leads to: even greater normalising of surveillance, says Matt Burgess in Wired.

RESOURCES

The anarchist collective Freedom has updated their text “Do You Have to Give Cops Your Name and Address” with the recent COVID-19 cop powers developments.

This blog features in a SOAS COP Policy Briefing To Inform Government and Parliamentary Debate: Policing in a Time of Coronavirus by Dr Rob Faure Walker (14th April 2020)

10 April Update

POLICING

On the eve of the four day bank holiday weekend, a police officer in South Yorkshire was captured on video telling a family to leave the front lawn of their house in Ferham, Rotherham. The force subsequently tweeted this was “was well-intentioned but ill-informed and we’d like to apologise for the way it was handled.”

The second apology of the day came after Cambridgeshire Police officers tweeted that they were checking up on the “non-essential aisles” at a local supermarket. The force was obliged to clarify that “not monitoring what people are buying from supermarkets. This message was sent with good intentions by an over-exuberant officer”.

The apparent belief within some police forces that they were able to make decisions about what people could buy in the few shops remaining open was fuelled further by Gloucestershire Police highlighting its own list of “non-essential” items including “paint, top soil, a sat-nav, an Easter egg, a scratch card, bamboo fencing, and stone chippings”.

The government felt it necessary to comment, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying, “We set out a list of shops which could remain open and if the shops are on that list then they are free to sell whatever they have in stock, obviously providing its legal to do so”.

In Haringey in London, there was a report of the use of police powers under Schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act to detain a person who is “potentially infectious” for a removal for screening and assessment.

In Newham, Netpol highlighted a report it had received about “confrontational policing towards people genuinely keeping to social distancing in West Ham Park in Newham”, with officers “wrongly insisting that only one hour a day exercise is allowed and only running and jogging but not skipping are permissible”.

In Hackney, there was also a report of a large group of officers disrupting (and kicking) people practising yoga in London Fields, on the basis that this was “pretending to exercise”.

In Sussex, police were described as “out bright and early filming people – who are all at least 2m apart and moving- on Hove beach”.

Britain can take an example from Oakland where tomorrow 74 miles of street will be closed for cars to permit runners/bikers/walkers to use the streets while maintain social distancing.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone says Police Scotland has invited a leading human rights lawyer to review its use of emergency powers, SkyNews reported.

Police in the north of Ireland become the latest to launch an online reporting tool allowing people to denounce their neighbours.

In Greater Manchester, a man has been arrested after biting a female police constable and punching two other officers as they enforced lockdown. He was causing a disturbance on Drake Street in Rochdale on Thursday evening, and is now in custody on suspicion of criminal damage, domestic violence assault, section 18 assault with intent to resist arrest and regulation 8 of the Health Protection Regulation 2020 (Coronavirus).

Nine prisoners have died after contracting Covid-19 and more than 100 have tested for positive. Given the “risky” prison environment, Lord Macdonald insisted that releasing low-level non-violent offenders, such as those jailed for non-payment of fines, shoplifting or minor public order [rest behind paywall].

COMMENT

The politics of Covid-19: ‘Busy’ parks and public blame. “As ministers equivocate over lockdown guidance, we’re gearing up for another weekend of public shaming. It’s a classic Conservative move,” says Siobhán McGuirk in Red Pepper, “blame the people for government failures.”

Lord Sandhurst QC & Anthony Speaight QC argue in a paper for the Society of Conservative Lawyers [pdf] that it would contribute to public support for the Government’s restrictions if steps are taken to bring them better in line with the rule of law.

LibDem MP Wendy Chamberlain writes in Metro: I used to be a police officer – now I worry about them being given more power

RESOURCES

Now online, free to view: Recording of Garden Court North Seminar on police powers and the Coronavirus Act 2020, held on the 9th April featuring Pete Weatherby Q.C., Mira Hammad, Christian Weaver and Mark George Q.C.

David Mead at the protestmatters blog discusses  the human rights implications of the ban on gatherings in Regulation 7, of the Government’s response to COVID-19.

#COVID-19: Facts and frequently asked questions for individuals and groups’ by Jude Lanchin at Bindmans.

A guide to make Freedom of Information Act requests on #COVID19: Who, where, what, by the Global Investitagive Journalists Network @GIJN.

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.

8 April Update

POLICING

Today a YouGov public opinion survey [pdf] on the policing of the lockdown commissioned by Crest Advisory (a strategy and communications company set up by a former special adviser to Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron) showed broad support for the police’s role, but also a number of areas of concern after just two weeks of implementing emergency powers.

The survey, of 1646 adults, said that 42% fully supported the approach taken by the police, while a further 32% generally supported it but felt in some cases they had gone too far. A majority (54%) were uncomfortable with naming and shaming people on social media and with police analysing social media accounts to identify those in breach of the lockdown (48%). A surprisingly high proportion – 42% – were uncomfortable with both asking people to report others who breach the rules and with facial recognition in public places to identify people breaching the lockdown, whilst 43% were uncomfortable with the police using drones to photograph people making unnecessary journeys

A summary by CrestAdvisory said, “People are, broadly speaking, comfortable with face-to-face police enforcement up to and including tactics such as roadblocks which are themselves highly unusual. However, public support starts to fall when people are asked about more remote, less human tactics such as the use of social media to name and shame those flouting social distancing rules, or new technology such as drones to photograph people”.

As Netpol commented, however, “We’d expect support for many policing measures at this stage of the lockdown but two weeks on, 32% saying in some cases the police have gone too far, 43% uncomfortable with the use of drones and 42% with reporting neighbours seems like a strategic failure”.

The Police Federation, meanwhile, has suggested that disproportionate decisions about lockdown rules were attempts to interpret ‘stark’ messages from politicians rather than the new legislation itself, which is of course unlawful.

Cambridgeshire Police became the latest force to introduce an online reporting tool to enable residents to denounce their neighbours for alleged breaches of the lockdown.

A week after the National Police Chiefs Council reissued its guidelines, there have been further reports on the police interpreting, in the harshest manner, rules on driving to take exercise.

At the Old Bailey in London, former YPG volunteer Daniel Burke was unable to attend his latest court hearing because he is self-isolating while on remand. Netpol argued that he “poses no threat whatsoever to anyone in Britain and should be released immediately”.

IMMIGRATION

It was reported today that a confirmed coronavirus case at Brook House detention centre near Gatwick airport involved a person who was detained on 2nd April, long after deportation flights were suspended, which is probably unlawful. It was also long after the virus was widespread and likely to expose staff and detainees.

Yesterday, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) said that it had secured 23 requests for bail with no refusals, adding, “emptying detention centres one individual at a time shouldn’t be necessary. Everyone should be released urgently!”

OPINION

Antonia Layard, Professor of Law at the University of Bristol Law School, argues in Parks in the time of Covid-19 that “media coverage has undoubtedly been influential in decisions not to close parks, for there are only limited differences between public and private property” and says  “the call for “people’s parks” resonates loudly at the moment”.

An important ongoing thread by Wolfie Christl looks at data harvesting companies who claim to help to fight the virus by providing data on the movements of millions. This overview shows how location data secretly gathered from smartphone apps is potentially flawed, biased, untrustworthy or even fraudulent.

Another thread doubting tracing by mobile phones from another point of view, by Ryan Calo: ‘I just don’t see contact tracing apps that are voluntary, self-reported, and self-help working, especially given asymptomatic spread. Which, in fairness, I bet wasn’t as clear when these ideas were hatched.’

In a webinar on Corona tracing apps by Alexandra Geese and Ulf Buermeyer – currently legal IT at Berlin Department of Justice – say the mandatory installation of an app to not consider a greater violation than compelling people to wear a mask.

RESOURCES

As we move our work and social lives online it is more important than ever that the human right to peaceful assembly applies in online spaces as well as physical. The Centre of  Governance and Human Rights made available a research pack on the right of peaceful assembly online. It highlights the threats to it, “including denials of access, the chilling effects resulting from new and exacerbated forms of surveillance and discrimination, and interference obscured by digital mediation.”