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 The Crown Prosecution Service revealed that all 44 charges it had so far checked had been withdrawn or overturned.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.

13-14 May Update

POLICING

As the Home Office starts to share the government’s new messages, the College of Policing has issued new guidance [PDF] for officers on the latest changes to the lockdown regulations starting today in England (similar guidance for Wales [PDF] was issued on Monday). The guidelines urge officers to only enforce what is written in the law, adding that “Government guidance is not enforceable; for example, two-metre distancing, avoiding public transport, or the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces”. However, both Scotland and Wales continue to enforce social distancing in businesses.

In an interview for Sky News, the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council Martin Hewitt reiterated that “it is not a policing role to enforce the 2m social distancing.” There has been widespread coverage of how the new rules mean the police’s “hands are tied” over lockdown fines, as if restricting the ability of the police to arbitrarily issue fixed penalty notices whenever they want is anything other than a positive development.

The latest stop and search figures from the Metropolitan Police show a surge in the use of these police powers during the lockdown. Across London, there were 30,608 uses of stop and search in April, compared to 23,787 in March – a rise of 22%. Two-thirds of these stops have been for drugs searches. The number of stops per 100,00 has increased from 7.2 to 9.3 for Black people (see the Met’s Stop and Search Dashboard for the full figures).

One keyworker at a secondary school, its Inclusion Manager and Safeguarding lead, has described how he was racially profiled for a drug search by the Met’s Territorial Support Group.

Seeming to confirm earlier reports that the Home Office has told police to focus attention from now on onto large gatherings (see reports from Devon & Cornwall and West Mercia), West Yorkshire Police has outlined plans to respond if planned anti-lockdown events go ahead in Leeds this weekend, as have South Yorkshire Police and Leicestershire Police.

One of the few remaining protest camps to have remained during the lockdown, by opponents of HS2, has been evicted from a site in west London. Campaigners have complained about the police’s refusal to intervene during aggressive evictions by the National Eviction Team, a company that specialises in evicting environmental protesters and squatters.

What has been described as a “Lincolnshire lockdown rebel” has been fined six times and his fines are now more than £1,920, but Lincolnshire Police are powerless to arrest him unless he fails to pay the fines. They say they are now looking at extremely questionable “alternative ways of dealing with him”, including the use of powers around public nuisance and section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 for causing alarm and distress.

LEGAL

Members of Parliament are starting to question the legality of how decisions are made by the government about the lockdown. Lord Falconer tweeted on Wednesday: “Yesterday government by executive decree passed regulations to make the changes to the lockdown. Those regulations could have been debated and voted on by the House of Commons, but the government decided they were too urgent. They weren’t. They could have been debated yesterday. Careful about democracy.”

SURVEILLANCE

Covid-19 Apps Pose Serious Human Rights Risks – Human Rights Watch has published recommendations for governments considering technology in addressing the pandemic.

Robots to patrol European resorts to enforce social distancing, The Times (£) reports. ‘As well as mobile apps to track or trace infections, European Commission proposals for tourism envisage “artificial intelligence and robotics [to] underpin public health measures”.’

Secret NHS documents seen by WIRED reveal new details about how its contact tracing app might work in the future. Potential future features include health statuses, location data, and data “donation”. Scoop by Matt Brugess. The documents, hosted in Google Drive, were inadvertently left open for anyone with a link to view. So, we are expected to trust people who can’t get the permissions right on google docs with a COVID surveillance and tracking app? Thread on why this matters.

Police State, Race and Public Health in Time of Covid – recording of a webinar organised on 12 May by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. The National Security Police State always uses crisis like this to expand oppression, to expand surveillance, accumulate new weapons, push boundaries and justify its violence. In this part we discuss race disguised as a biological category versus a political one; “immunity passports” and public health surveillance.

26 May, 7pm (BST) James Harkin speaks to Richard Norton Taylor about the development of the national security state, the pace of its surveillance apparatus. New online talk series by the Centre of Investigave Journalism.

RESOURCES

Adam Wagner tries to disentangle the ever more complex interaction between the lockdown law, the government guidance and UK regional divergence.

Coronavirus: Know Your Rights – update of the Liberty guide.
Coronavirus: What powers do the police have? – guide by the BBC’s Dominic Casciani.

Bristol Defendants Solidarity has produced a new Know Your Rights leaflet specifically for Wales (updated 11 May): pdf version | editable odt version

Video seminar next week on the human right to life and Covid-19, by Brick Court Chambers with @BindmansLLP on 19th May at 1pm chaired by @paulebowen QC 

The last entry of this blog got picked up by @COVIDStateWatch: Responses to the coronavirus pandemic demonstrate how governments increasingly view public health through the prism of national security and law enforcement.

It is the final chance to add your name to Netpol’s letter calling on police to stop – before the lockdown ends – labelling campaigning as “domestic extremism” (as government departments already have done). 

11-12 May Update

POLICING

One of the criticisms of the police over the last six weeks of the lockdown has been that, instead of implementing the law, they have interpreted public health regulations in the way they thought the government wanted them to. This often involved more apparent concern for public order rather than public health, resulting in arbitrary and disproportionate use of police powers.

Sunday’s announced “easing” of the regulations and the subsequent warnings that the new rules could make the policing the lockdown impossible, suggest that senior officers are no longer sure want the government wants, although the Telegraph reported that they have been told by the Home Office they will only be expected to intervene in large gatherings.

The Independent published a guide on new, tougher fines introduced by the government, while the Guardian tried to explain how England’s new coronavirus lockdown rules are supposed to work.

Elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) have also been responding to the government’s amended strategy. In Wales, one has described the changes as “a total shambles”, while in Northumbria, the PCC has said that officers will struggle to enforce rules in a “halfway house between lockdown and freedom”.

The Welsh government has warned people are not allowed to drive from England into Wales for exercise as the two countries move to different lockdown rules.

In Cumbria, a force that up to the end of April had issued 107 fines, a further 100 more fixed penalty notices were handed out during the VE Day bank holiday weekend alone. Interesting for the first time a senior police officer, ACC Andrew Slattery, specifically blamed newspaper headlines for “giving the impression lockdown was over”.

The latest amendments to the Coronavirus Regulations say that reasonable excuses for going to open spaces now include for “emotional wellbeing”. This is an entirely reasonable excuse: the government has promoted daily exercise as necessary for health and there are proven mental health benefits of physical activity, but as the barrister David Allen Green has pointed out, this definitely is practically impossible to police. Richard Horton, the Orwell Prize-winning police blogger Nightjack, agreed, tweeting “there is no cop, popular stereotype or otherwise, that could police this rapidly agglomerating cluster of afterthoughts…” Which raises the question: why are they trying to, unless there is a clear public health or disease control benefit?

Dyfed-Powys Police reportedly issued 219 fines for coronavirus lockdown breaches over the bank holiday weekend.

The Guardian reported that a homeless man has been charged with ‘leaving the place you were living, namely no fixed address’ during lockdown; and that the judge has questioned the decision but the CPS are determined it will go to trial. Regulation 6(4) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 say the requirement that no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse ” does not apply to any person who is homeless”.

On Monday, the Office for National Statistics published new data that seems to indicate that, rather than those who are stuck at home and venturing out once a day for exercise (the focus of the police’s attention in implementing public health regulations), it has been people who are forced to continue low paid work during the current lockdown who have had the high rates of death involving the coronavirus, including security guards, taxi drivers, workers in construction and in jobs such as hospital porters, kitchen and catering assistants. In spite of widespread reporting – and subsequent lengthy prison sentences – for assaults on police officers involving deliberate spitting and coughing, such as this one, it is unclear from these statistics whether the police are also a higher risk or not.

SURVEILLANCE

Even before the pandemic, Britain was the only country that had integrated counter-radicalisation activities into healthcare, PreventWatch pointed out. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the government has chosen a senior Home Office counter-terrorism official, Tom Hurd, to coordinate newly established joint biosecurity centre and its new Covid Alert System, as announced by Boris Johnson on Sunday. The centre is planned to closely model the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, Britain’s anti-terrorism national security system. Speaking at the launch of the Independent Sage report last week, Prof Allyson Pollock from Newcastle University said she believed the security emphasis was misguided. “Even the term biosecurity is really worrying,” she said. “We should be thinking about surveillance for epidemics and disease control.”

Are Covid-19 contact apps data safe? – Ramsey Faragher, Naked Scientists blog

Coronavirus: How does contact tracing work and is my data safe?, BBC News

Draft Covid-19 contact tracing legislation proposes formal oversight, Computer Weekly

RESOURCES

Lockdown fines explained: how much you could be charged for breaking lockdown rules as police introduce tougher enforcement.

The lockdown regulations were finally debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday, just as the second tranche of amendments was published.

8 – 10 May Update

POLICING

There was widespread circulation and comment on video footage of residents in one street in Grappenhall, a village in Warrington, performing a ‘socially distanced conga’ to celebrate the 75th-anniversary of VE Day. The BBC reported on the street party, adding to confusion over what is permitted under the existing health regulations.

Significantly, however, the organisers tweeted that the street party was signed off by the police. If true, this is in marked contrast to the police’s attitudes towards socially distanced protest earlier in the week.

However, a protest in Manchester on Saturday by Stand Up to Racism, at the petrol station where a man was tasered by police in front of his child, was allowed to go ahead without the police intervening – presumably on the basis that doing so would have made an already tense situation worse.

A protest by anti-lockdown and 5G conspiracy campaigners in central London on Saturday was broken up and a number of arrests made.

At the start of the weekend, police chiefs were complaining that they are seen by the public as the “villains of the pandemic”, as they braced to send scores of Brits home this Bank Holiday weekend.

The Metropolitan Police Federation expressed its wishes that it had been allowed to crack down harder at the start of the lockdown. Netpol commented that “in reality, until now public support for health regulations has surprised everyone but police continue to push a false message that none of us can be trusted”.

After earlier this week talking about the need to issue more coronavirus fines, Wiltshire Police has had to withdraw 13 of them over concerns they were disproportionate or unlawful

Cumbria Police issued a record number of fines in the Bank Holiday period over alleged breaches of lockdown rules, with 42 issued on Friday alone.

The Police Federation issued a statement in response to changes to lockdown regulations outlined in a speech by Boris Johnson on Sunday, insisting the police’s work “must be based on crystal clear guidance, not loose rules that are left open to interpretation”. Arguably, however, loose rules have been the source of constant concerns since the start of the lockdown, as this blog has tried to highlight.

The Police’s Federation’s chair John Apter reportedly said of the latest changes, however, that: “If the message of what is expected of the public is not clear then it will make the job of policing this legislation almost impossible.”

Brian Booth of the Police Federation’s West Yorkshire branch put it in even stronger terms: “Policing Covid 19 has become impossible after today. My colleagues cannot Engage, Explain, Encourage or Enforce such woolly rules. This is now down to the public to police itself. Please let’s avoid a second spike.”

HUMAN RIGHTS

In an alarming development, Sir Stephen Laws, former first parliamentary counsel responsible for drafting all government laws, has suggested in a paper for the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange {PDF} that Boris Johnson suspend human rights laws to prevent legal challenges to the easing of the coronavirus lockdown rules. His report urges the government to consider derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) until the end of the crisis to avoid public safety measures approved by Parliament being overturned in the courts.  Sir Stephen argues that the complexity of the new social distancing rules meant they risked becoming mired in legal actions over human rights that would undermine the fight against the virus. In such “dangerous and unusual” times, the government could not risk the courts overturning its policy “in a restoration of the use of the law for politics by other means.”

SURVEILLANCE

A new guide by Big Brother Watch: Everything you need to know about the NHSX contact tracing app. Key information on the tech, risks and law in a handy FAQ.

 

7 May Update

POLICING

Friday is a bank holiday to mark VE Day but street parties have obviously been cancelled. The police are warning people to make sure that whatever alternative lockdown celebrations are planned, social distancing rules are maintained. Meanwhile, some forces (notably Dorset and North Yorkshire) are also reiterating the message that their counties are closed to outsiders.

An Avon & Somerset Police Community Support Officer has publicly criticised a cyclist who was injured while taking daily exercise for cycling too far and for taking up “valuable emergency service time”. The PCSO said injuries “could have been prevented by the cyclists staying at home”.

Wiltshire Police has indicated it has issued more coronavirus fines in the last week.

According to Doughty Street Chambers, there have been (at least) five confirmed cases in which people have been prosecuted and convicted for offences that either don’t exist, don’t apply to the country they were in, or simply could not apply to them. Lawyers warn that at a time when the justice system is largely operating in secret due to the lockdown restrictions, the wrongful convictions that the public is aware of have only come to light as a result of police publicising their apparent “victories” and through diligent press reporting. 

By law, the Health Secretary must review the necessity of the “lockdown” restrictions every 21 days. The second review was due on 7 May but the public has heard nothing. Big Brother Watch has criticised the government for failing in its duty to publish the review, saying “Whatever your view on ending or extending the lockdown, having liberties lifted by ministerial rule, without transparency, is a bad place for any democracy to be.”

SURVEILLANCE

Privacy International has published its analysis of the new NHS contact tracing app.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has published a report, “Human Rights and the Government’s Response to Covid-19: Digital Contact Tracing” (PDF), which says that the government’s plans for a contact tracing app require additional safeguards and “having a carefully considered legislative basis for this app would better engender public trust and participation”. The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said, “Assurances from Ministers about privacy are not enough. The Government has given assurances about protection of privacy so they should have no objection to those assurances being enshrined in law”.

The Open Rights Group Scotland wrote an open letter to the Scottish government asking for more info about the data protection and human rights safeguards for the Track, Trace, Isolate, Support digital tool tackling COVID-19. They also ask that data is not passed to NHSX. It was co-signed by, Amnesty and the Human Rights Consortium, academics, members of civil society and others.

Experts in human rights law, surveillance and computer science from the University of Essex have set out the actions required before a contact-tracing app can be deployed in the UK.

The European Trade Union Institute has published Covid-19 contact-tracing apps: how to prevent privacy from becoming the next victim

COMMENT

Does the pandemic require derogation from human rights treaties? Niall Coghlan summarises the state practice during this crisis, mapping the derogations to date from European, American and international human rights systems, and draws some tentative conclusions.

In Disobedience, Protest, and the Pandemic: Climate Change and Citizen Action under Conditions of Social Distancing, Graeme Hayes looks at the challenges facing social movements who engage in civil disobedience and how they may need to rethink they tactics as the pandemic creates new social norms.

From Fanon to ventilators, by Arun Kundnani. To neoliberal states, the pandemic is a racialized security threat and a market opportunity. Our fight is for the right to breathe — in every sense. (Adapted version of a presentation in Transnational Institute’s webinar States of Control, the Dark Side of Pandamic Politics.)

RESOURCES

Kirsty Brimelow QC and Pippa Woodrow at Doughty Street Chambers have written a 6-step Guide to Coronavirus Offences for the public, police and lawyers dealing with allegations and enforcement of the Health Protection Regulations and Coronavirus Act 2020. It outlines basic questions to be asked when facing a criminal charge or a fixed penalty notice under this legislation and sets out the various offences, time limits, potential defences, powers of enforcement and penalties that apply.

The learning disability charity Enable Scotland has created an image that disabled people can save on their phones setting out their rights, which their family members or carers can show if challenged by police officers when out exercising. The charity has identified such encounters with officers as “a major source of anxiety” for the people it works with. The images are available here.

COVID State Watch published a long list of activists all over the world monitoring and challenging abuses by police and misuse of emergency powers during the pandemic.

5-6 May Update

POLICING

There is another bank holiday weekend approaching and police in Wales and North Yorkshire are gearing up for further action to restrict movements. The Guardian has reported claims that the lockdown in the Lake District is ‘fraying at the edges’.

Lancashire Police have cancelled coronavirus fines handed to Shazia Zahieer and Tayyba Arif a week into the lockdown. They had driven to Preston Docks for exercise. They were represented by Patrick Ormerod from Bindmans. The firm is calling on Lancashire Police to review all fines issued under the emergency Coronavirus Regulations.

Police broke up a protest citing the COVID19 regulations at a direct action against HS2 in Euston, which following a similar intervention against supporters of Julian Assange protesting at Westminster Magistrates Court on 4 May does suggest any form of outdoor protest is currently impossible, even if like the HS2 protesters, social distancing and face masks are used to try to minimise health risks (and construction work is still permitted to continue). Frustratingly, the police also tried to use anti-social behaviour powers under section 50 of the Police Reform Act to demand HS2 protesters give their names and address, even though protest is clearly not anti-social behaviour.

The Prime Minister latest statement on erasing lockdown regulations seemed confused about the law his own government introduced, as the Daily Telegraph reported on their front page that Johnson is going to scrap the once-a-day limit on exercising and tell people they can take “unlimited” exercise either on their own or with members of their household”. In England, the law does not limit people to one exercise session a day outside their home (while in Wales it does) and exercise with members of the same household is already allowed too. 

Cumbria Police has apologised for yet another “ill-judged” tweet that said people should not buy plants or compost. As always, there is nothing in the health regulations that prevent such activities.

The Times claims (£) that the retirement of the chief of Derbyshire police is linked to criticism over implementing coronavirus regulations after his force used drones to shame walkers and attracted controversy after officers poured black dye in a lagoon to deter visitors.

Netpol has repeatedly warned that as the lockdown begins to ease, there is a risk that public fears drive demands for the police to hunt down potentially sick people and that this may target communities seen as a “risk” because of outright xenophobia, especially against the Chinese community. The evidence for this xenophobia is, unfortunately, highlighted in new data released by police forces to Sky News, which indicates the rate of hate crimes against Chinese people between January and March was nearly three times that of the previous two years.

SURVEILLANCE

Matthew Ryder QC and Edward Craven from Matrix Chambers, Gayatri Sarathy of Blackstone Chambers and solicitor Ravi Naik have been instructed by Open Society Foundation to provide a detailed legal opinion on smartphone contact tracing and other data-driven proposals that are part of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their opinion is available here.

Matrix has also produced a podcast that addresses the human rights implications of how governments are increasingly turning to technology.

The Open Rights Group has written to Matt Hancock and NHSX to demand immediate confirmation that they will conduct a full and adequate Data Protection Impact Assessment, consult with the ICO and publish the results.

Amnesty International UK has said that the public deserves answers and transparency over contact-tracing app privacy concerns,

Sky News has set out to explain how the NHS contact tracing app will work.

Apple and Google have announced a ban on the use of location data in mobile apps that utilize a new contact tracing system developed jointly by the two companies – one that is not the preferred option for the British government. It sees location data as central to identifying coronavirus hotspots and mapping viral transmission.

The Register argues that Britain finds itself almost alone in opting for such a centralised contact-tracing app, which it says probably won’t work well and may be illegal.

COMMENT

The virus is the police. Writing for Discover Society, James Trafford places the enforcement of the lockdown in the context of post-colonial policing, making a more fundamental argument – beyond the mere abuse of powers. He warns against whole-society policing that includes all kind of methods of surveillance and self-policing creating suspect communities.

RESOURCES

In this video, Adam Elliott Cooper of The Monitoring Group outlines the key legal powers that have been handed to police under Covid-19 lockdown conditions. The video also gives advice on how to stay safe if you encounter the police while outside.

 

4 May Update

POLICING

The Times has reported that senior police officers have warned the government that relaxing restrictions as Britain emerges from lockdown will make them “impossible to police” and requiring officers to carry out further enforcement that risks damaging their relationship with the public.

This follows rumours that the government plans to increase the current level of fines for breaches of coronavirus rules from £30 to £100, with a new maximum of £3,200 for repeat offenders. One senior officer commented, “As we move towards lifting restrictions, the worst possible thing would be more policing of the lockdown… I want us to be doing less.”

For the first time, Parliament was given the opportunity to debate the lockdown regulations but had only two hours to do so. The debate is published on Hansard here.

Minister for Health Edward Argar called it “a very important debate on regulations that, while absolutely necessary to help beat COVID-19, are having a profound effect on people’s lives and businesses” but in total, apart from the official opposition response, only14 MPs spoke: ten Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats, one from Plaid Cymru and the Democratic Unionist Party and none from Labour or the Green Party.

Liberty produced a briefing for Members of Parliament, which is available here.

Protestors standing many metres apart outside of Westminster Magistrates’
Court for the latest extradition hearing for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, were threatened with arrest under lockdown regulations if they did not return home. After the hearing was finished, a journalist – despite presenting his credentials and citing NPCC regulations that reporters are considered key workers – was allowed exactly one minute to do an interview.

Protests have been rare, but there was also one today at the HS2 site in Euston, which was attended by police but no arrests were made.

The BBC reported that 13 arrests had been made at after raiding two lockdown parties in Liverpool. The person we reported on a few days ago who had been reported to Norfolk Police for wearing a medieval plague doctors outfit turned out to be a teenage boy. He has been given “words of advice”.

In North Yorkshire, police issued 61 fines over the weekend specifically to people not taking advice to stay away from the county.

Cumbria Police has apologised for yet another “ill-judged” tweet that said people should not buy plants or compost.

SURVEILLANCE

The government is piloting a new contact-tracing app on the Isle of Wight this week for managing the coronavirus outbreak, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed, despite concerns its centralised setup carries privacy risks and will reduce uptake.

The app has been developed by NHSX, the technology unit of the National Health Service, with support from the National Cyber Security Centre, the defensive operational division of intelligence gatherers at GCHQ. It insists that individual privacy will be protected.

However, Amnesty International’s UK director Kate Allen has said, “We’re extremely concerned that the Government may be planning to route private data through a central database, opening the door to pervasive state surveillance and privacy infringement, with potentially discriminatory effects.”

The Telegraph has reported that because the contact tracing app under development by the NHS is incompatible with the Google and Apple system used in other countries, Britons may find they are unable to travel abroad – with obvious implications for anyone wanting to cross the British border between the north and south of Ireland.

Contact-tracing apps are not a solution to the COVID-19 crisis, argue Ashkan Soltani, Ryan Calo, and Carl Bergstrom for Brookings

2 – 3 May Update

POLICING

Netpol has launched a campaign calling on the National Police Chiefs Council to end to the labelling of campaigners as “domestic extremists” before the current lockdown is over. In an open letter that is gathering signatories, the organisation says that “when we finally emerge from lockdown, it is inevitable campaigners will demand real changes to the way many of society’s problems are prioritised… Our fear is that campaigners will likely find themselves, once again, labelled as ‘extremists’ and become the renewed target for intensive surveillance by Britain’s political policing units”.

A breakdown from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) of the latest data on fines issued for alleged breached of coronavirus legislation, for the period from 27 March to 27 April 2020, shows that out of 8877 fines, the forces who have issued the most include Thames Valley (649), Metropolitan Police (634), Lancashire (633), Devon & Cornwall (510), West Yorkshire (460) and North Yorkshire (458).

Data table 20 April 2020

There have been a number of significant revisions on earlier inaccurate numbers of fines up to 13 April, with the Metropolitan Police’s revised figures leaping from 82 fines to 431. Lancashire was also under-reported, with its numbers for the first eighteen days increasing from 380 to 469.

It was reported that Wiltshire Police has withdrawn two of the 130 fines it has issued over concerns they were either disproportionate or unlawful. Netpol commented that across the country, there are almost certainly many more like this and advised people to “make sure you appeal if you are unhappy”.

As Penelope Gibbs from Transform Justice highlighted, what is missing is an indication of the numbers of fines based on the size of the population in each police area. Police in Lancashire covers a population of around 1.5 million, whilst Devon & Cornwall covers 1.65 million and Thames Valley covers 2.1 million. However, Essex Police covers 1.72 million people and has issued only 111 fines, whilst the population covered by policing in Norfolk is 859,400 and yet it has issued more than double (227) this number of fines.

This also applies to demographic data on ethnicity. The NPCC says that overall, 58% of fines in England were issued to those self-identifying as white, 10% as Asian, 4% Black and 2% mixed-race, with 25% not self-identifying their ethnicity. This is broadly in line with the 2011 census breakdown, but both Black and Asian communities are concentrated within a small number of urban police areas and over 1 million of the 1.8 million people self-identifying as Black British are covered by the Metropolitan Police. The issue of proportionality is therefore hard to judge without a force-by-force comparison.

Demographically, the NPCC says 82% of fines in England were given to men and 15% cent to women, with three per cent unknown. 36% were issued to those aged 18-24.

On Saturday, it was reported that the Crown Prosecution Service plans to review every charge brought under new emergency coronavirus laws after wrongful convictions were highlighted. The CPS has said this is the first time it has reviewed every charge under a specific piece of legislation.

Meanwhile, stories about the misuse of police powers have continued. It was reported that a personal assistant working for a disabled person was forced to pay fines by the police.

Avon and Somerset Police has received more than 10,000 reports from people denouncing their neighbours for alleged breaches of lockdown regulations. (Yesterday we reported that the total of such calls the police have received was 194,000, according to the NPCC.)

COMMENT

Jennifer Collins on the UK Constitutional Law Association blog challenges a punitive narrative which celebrates sending those convicted of coronavirus crimes to prisons where Covid-19 has the potential to be rampant.

30 April – 1 May Update

Policing

Checking people’s reasons for being on the streets, South Yorkshire Police went as far as warning people for “saunter in jeans as exercise“, a “visit the shop for egg custard” and a “trip to the cash machine for 20,- to use in the morning”. The online backlash this caused forced the police to apologise next day and take down the post.

Police close down family string quartet playing classical music for their neighbours claiming they are breaking coronavirus lockdown rules. Rafael Todes, 53, had been performing with his family outside his property in Bayswater, London, for six weeks. This week police officers arrived to his street and said the music may encourage residents to gather on road. The musical family had been playing Shostakovich’s String Quartet No4 in the front garden when stopped. The piece was written by Shostakovich during the time he was scared that he would be arrested by Stalin’s men. (article includes video of the incident)

Police in Brent found someone sleeping in a park, and used a picture of him to go with their ‘Please stay at home’ message on social media. They didn’t disguise his face, and were critised for shaming someone who may have been homeless or collapsed – he certainly was not sunning himself.

A junior doctor was fined £60 for exercising on the 29th. Police refused to identify themselves by name or badge number. ‘Repeatedly stepped within 2m of me and threatened to “seize my phone”.’

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) say the police have received 194,000 calls “snitching” on people alleged to have broken the coronavirus lockdown, and say the draconian measures are getting harder to for people to observe the longer they go on. Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, has said he would not snitch on his neighbours: “No, I don’t think I would do. But I’m not going to pass judgement on other people and what they’re choosing to do. It’s become apparent to me that the lockdown is harder for different people that others.”

Police issue almost 9000 fines for alleged coronavirus lockdown breaches in England. The numbers are increasing: in the two weeks to 13 April, which included the long Easter weekend, 4,152 fines were issued in England alone, and in the next fortnight there were 4,725 fines.

NPCC figures show a postcode lottery of enforcement, The Guardian wrote. Thames Valley police recorded the highest number of fines, 649, while the biggest force, the Met in London, issued 634. Warwickshire issued 22 fines, the fewest of any force. Dorset issued 116 but next door in Devon and Cornwall there were 510 fines. Rather than a lottery, these numbers show a huge difference in the approach of enforcing the lockdown.

Don’t forget meanwhile that “the vast majority of people in the UK are obeying the lockdown rules – not because they have been ordered to by the government but because they don’t want to catch or spread the virus”.

Lancashire Police withdrew Coronavirus fixed penalty notices (FPNs) that were wrongly issued under the lockdown to Shazia Zahieer and Tayyba Arif (represented by Bindmans). On 30 March 2020, left the house for a short drive to the Riverside Docks in Preston, so they could take a stroll and get some fresh air whilst adhering to ‘social distancing’ guidelines. At the docks, they were approached by police officers and, despite explaining why they were there, fined under the Health Protection Regulations 2020. However, the Regulations include a long, non-exhaustive list of what are reasonable excuses for a person to leave the place where they are living, including the need “to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household”.

The Lancashire police that had already gained notoriety for issuing more FPNs than any other in the first three weeks of lockdown, and for having to apologise after one of its officers threatened to make up evidence against a member of the public, has now confirmed it will not be taking further enforcement action against Bindmans’ clients.

If you have received a fine and are unhappy about the reasons why it was issued – make sure you appeal! The London Campaign against Police and State Violence offers support to people in South London with challenging such fines. Email: lcapsv.AT.gmail.com. Also @StopWatchUK Legal Group – made up of lawyers and academics – provide legal advice.

Recently local couriers were issued with £50 fines by North Yorkshire Police for carrying out deliveries by bicycle, in the city centre. These fines can be an entire day’s wage. Couriers had been told by both council and police staff that they were allowed to cycle in the otherwise restricted area during lockdown because enforcement had been relaxed.

On the 18th April, IWGB member Ethan Bradley was mishandled and threatened with arrest by a PSCO who wasn’t wearing PPE, potentially exposing Ethan, and the public, to the virus. After a public backlash, a letter of support from York Central MP Rachel Maskell and extensive media coverage, North Yorkshire Police and the City of York Council have resorted to claiming restrictions were never lifted and shifting responsibility onto one another. As this is completely unacceptable, they have now set up a petition to demand york police & council to rescind the fines and give them city centre access.

Isle of Man

BigBrotherWatch zoomed in on the situation on the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown dependency. The local government has introduced a flurry of secondary legislation in response to COVID-19, under the Emergency Powers Act 1936. Recent reports by the BBC, the Guardian and Isle of Man Today paint an alarming picture of excessive policing and enforcement responses to breaches of these regulations, including the drastic step of imprisonment.

As of April 24, the Isle police have arrested over 40 people in a two-week period for breaching COVID-19 regulations. At least four people have been jailed. The examples clearly show that vulnerable members of the community experience the brunt of enhanced police powers.

Review of the lockdown

Adam Wagner continues his discussion of the recent, non-debated and unscrutinised changes to the lockdown regulations (which were themselves non-debated and unscrutinised), stating: ‘It is unsatisfactory to have a criminal law which (1) depends entirely on intention of a person for being outside their house (2) penalises having the wrong intention (3) which can change in an instant, (4) penalties depend on what police officer “considers” a person is thinking.’ Which does remind Wagener of judicial criticisms of protest injunctions which rely entirely on a person’s intention, which can change, to define a potentially criminal act (contempt). 

On Monday, Parliament has just 2 hours to debate the Lockdown Regulations for the first time. Big Brother Watch sent a copy of their briefing to every MP – question is, will they they speak in the debate?

Surveillance

Essential thread on #COVID19, by the Institute of Race Relations. Trevor Phillips and Richard Webber’s coding technology will be used for the inquiry on the disproportionate impact of #coronavirus on black and brown communities. This same coding is used by police forces to profile individuals & communities.

More than 170 scientists and researchers working in the UK in the fields of information security and privacy made a joint statement about the contact tracing app developed by NHSX in the UK:

Resources

Netpol’s coordinator @copwatcher has been interviewed by @MElmaazi on recent changes to coronavirus regulations, the policing of the pandemic in Britain and fears about what happens next when the immediate crisis starts to recede.

The recording of TNI’s webinar of last Wednesday’s States of Control: Dark side of pandemic politics is now publicly available and shareable.

SOCIOLOGIST OF CRISIS: INSIDE THE COVID-19 STATE: PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH THROUGH LAW ENFORCEMENT

The rise of technologically-mediated police contact: the potential consequences of ‘socially-distanced policing’. By Dr Helen Wells, Dr Liz Aston, Dr Megan O’Neill and Professor Ben Bradford in BSC Policing Network, Connecting Policing Researchers In The UK And Beyond.
And more interesting articles such as Police discretion and the coronavirus pandemic, by Dr. Liz Turner and Dr. Mike Rowe.

27 – 29 April Update

POLICING

Campaigners from Big Brother Watch have published its first monthly “Emergency Powers & Civil Liberties” review [PDF], which is aimed at members of Parliament. The 91-page report reveals what it calls “staggering incompetence in police use of emergency laws – including wrongful convictions” and “a postcode lottery of pandemic policing that’s inconsistent and often heavy-handed”.

Coverage by The Times [paywall] highlights the case of a teenager in England was wrongly convicted under emergency powers applicable only in Wales. Thames Valley Police have now agreed this was wrong and intend to have the conviction withdrawn, although it is alarming that the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and a District Judge all managed to interpret the law completely incorrectly.

If the stories highlighted by this blog have a common theme, it is how emergency police powers are routinely interpreted in public order rather than public health terms, with little evidence that decisions are made with health promotion or disease prevention benefits in mind.

Over the last two days, we have seen further examples of this. Despite revised national guidance saying you can drive to take exercise, Dorset Police is still interpreting measures intended to protect public health as though they are about maintaining public order – warning people not to travel to beauty spots.

The force claims its advice is that everyone should avoid driving if possible “to reduce risks and ease pressure on emergency services” but this narrow interpretation of what is “reasonable” could apply to almost anything that we as members of the public do – and for Bedfordshire Police, this includes handling books.

Police ordered a Luton woman to remove a free books stall from her garden after a complaint. She told her local newspaper, “I was quite annoyed and I made the point that there had been burglaries and a shop break-in, but police were coming after me over some books in the garden!”

For Norfolk Police, the “risk” is from a man going for a walk wearing a medieval plague doctor outfit: police want to talk to him to offer “words of advice”, even though they acknowledge that no offences have been committed.

In Hampshire, the risk allegedly came from a couple and their three-year-old feeding some ducks while on their daily walk.

Meanwhile, police and health authorities in the north of Ireland have said they are “deeply concerned” that people wanting to know what their rights actually are could encourage them to ignore official advice.

In North Yorkshire, which had promised it would maintain a tough stance despite revisions to national guidelines, managed to issue 61 fines in one weekend. This included 17 fines issued in the village of Malham alone – with 13 being written in an hour.

There are some signs that planning is already underway for the aftermath of the lockdown and as we have seen during the current period, it takes a largely negative and distrustful approach to the public.

In the West Midlands, the Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has said the force is planning for a huge increase in crime in June and July and that he had “serious concerns that thousands of young men across the region will find themselves jobless”.

In South Yorkshire Police, meanwhile, has drawn from specialist riot units and members of its serious violent crime team to set up a new pandemic ‘taskforce’.

Meanwhile, Lancashire Police is the latest force to launch an online tool so people can denounce their neighbours for alleged coronavirus lockdown infractions.

SURVEILLANCE

If a leak to the NewStatesman is correct then Palantir, a company that has close relationships with US intelligence agencies is ‘charging’ the NHS just £1 for its coronavirus data deal. This raises questions about what business advantage Palantir is gaining and what the terms of patient data access and use are.

In the US, tech company Clearview AI says it’s in talks with federal and state agencies to track COVID-19 using facial recognition, despite the lack of a clear scientific basis for any benefit from this surveillance technology.

COMMENT

The increasing visibility of Britain’s police state. ‘Alison’, one of the women who was tricked into a relationship with an undercover officer and who now works for the support group Police Spies Out of Lives looks at the need to continue campaigning in these unprecedented times.

Boris Johnson’s police state won’t solve the coronavirus crisis’, Malia Bouattia, The New Arab.

RESOURCES

Liberty has updated its advice & information hub to include emergency police powers.