Police chiefs tell officers to stop issuing instant £10,000 Covid fines | World news

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Police chiefs have issued an emergency order to stop officers handing out instant £10,000 fines to Covid rule-breakers amid concerns the government’s flagship deterrent is unfair, the Guardian has learned.

Officials are scrambling to stop the crackdown on large gatherings in England and Wales, which was announced by the prime minister this summer, from imploding after serious problems emerged.

Scores of £10,000 on-the-spot fines have been issued for those organising anti-lockdown protests, student parties, raves and large weddings. The fines are part of measures to enforce rushed-through Covid legislation banning gatherings of more than 30 people.

But many of those who challenged the penalties in court had the penalties reduced to hundreds of pounds instead after judges decided the level of fine should be determined by an individual’s ability to pay, according to a source with knowledge of police discussions.

On Friday, forces were told of the “urgent” problem in a letter from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and told to stop issuing the fixed penalty notices (FPNs) imposing fines of £10,000 on those blamed for organising gatherings of more than 30 people.

New national restrictions are due to come into effect in England on Thursday, after MPs vote on them, and remain in place at least until 2 December.

What can I leave home for?

  • For childcare or education, where it is not provided online.
  • To go to work unless it can be done from home.
  • Outdoor exercise either with household members or with one person from another household.
  • For all medical reasons and appointments.
  • To escape injury or harm, such as domestic abuse.
  • To provide care for vulnerable people or volunteer.
  • To shop for food and essentials.
  • To see people in your support bubble.
  • Children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated.

Government say the list is not exhaustive, and other permitted reasons for leaving home may be set out later. People could face fines from police for leaving their home without a legally permitted excuse.

Can different households mix indoors?

No, not unless they are part of an “exclusive” support bubble, which allows a single-person household to meet and socialise with another household.

Parents are allowed to form a childcare bubble with another household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is 13 or under.

Can different households mix outdoors?

People are allowed to meet one person from another household socially and for exercise in outdoor public spaces, which does not include private gardens.

Can I attend funerals, weddings or religious services?

Up to 30 people will still be allowed to attend funerals, while stone settings and ash scatterings can continue with up to 15 guests.

Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are not permitted except in “exceptional circumstances”. Places of worship must remain closed except for voluntary services, individual prayer and other exempt activities.

Can I travel in the UK or abroad for a holiday?

Most outbound international travel will be banned. There is no exemption for staying away from home for a holiday. This means people cannot travel internationally or within the UK, unless for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions.

Which businesses will close?

Everything except essential shops and education settings, which include nurseries, schools and universities, will close.

Entertainment venues will also have to close. Pubs, restaurants and indoor and outdoor leisure facilities will have to close their doors once more.

However, takeaway and delivery services will still be allowed, while construction and manufacturing will stay open.

Parents will still be able to access registered childcare and other childcare activities where reasonably necessary to enable parents to work. Some youth services may be able to continue, such as one-to-one youth work, but most youth clubs will need to close their doors.

Public services, such as jobcentres, courts, and civil registration offices will remain open.

There is no exemption for grassroots organised team sports. Elite sports will be allowed to continue behind closed doors as currently, including Premier League football matches.

Aaron Walawalkar

The letter, seen by the Guardian, said: “With immediate effect we are asking all forces to cease issuing FPNs with a £10,000 fine of enforcement.” It said forces could instead issue court summonses or make arrests.

The letter from the NPCC to all chief constables and heads of criminal justice in England and Wales reveals behind-the-scenes concerns about flaws in the rushed measures.

A joint ethics committee of police, prosecutors and court officials had met and decided to order the halt, it said. “This arises from the issue of a significant inequitable position for those who elect to pay the fine, versus those who do not and progress to the courts and are subject to means-testing on conviction.”

The instruction says all £10,000 fines currently in process should be reviewed and officials would see whether the system of FPNs could be reformed and reinstated.

In a sign that the rules may be deemed unfair, the letter adds: “We wish to ensure that all persons subject to enforcement action under this particular regulation are treated equally and fairly …”

Among those fined £10,000 were Piers Corbyn, the brother of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who led an anti-lockdown protest in August. The organisers of a 1,000-strong rave in east London and a wedding for 80 people in Essex last month were also fined.

An NPCC spokesperson said: “On Friday 13 November we advised all forces to temporarily take enforcement steps by way of summons rather than by issuing a fixed penalty notice to the value of £10,000 for offences relating to gatherings of over 30 people under Covid regulations.

“We gave this advice because of a potential disparity between those who opt to pay the FPN and those who see their case reach the court where the FPN would be means-tested against personal income. We are working with government to urgently address this matter, and once rectified, we intend to advise that forces resume issuing £10,000 FPNs wherever appropriate.”

West Midlands police said on Tuesday it would stop issuing £10,000 fines, having handed out 13 so far. David Jamieson, the region’s police and crime commissioner, said he had been left embarrassed.

In a letter to the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, Jamieson wrote: “There are, apparently, concerns of inequalities between those who opt to pay the fine and those who opt to go to court, where the defendant is then subject to means-testing before a fine is imposed.

“My force has so far issued 13 of these large fixed penalty notices as means of ensuring government regulations are enforced in the way you intended. The fact that the government has failed to provide our hard-working police officers with workable Covid legislation, I view with utter dismay.

“I feel thoroughly embarrassed that I have been personally supporting the government’s actions, which, at best, are questionable.”

A government spokesperson said: “It is right that we have a strong deterrent. We are working with forces to ensure people are fully aware of their options when faced with a FPN. If someone chooses not to pay their FPN, the matter may be considered by a court and the individual could be subject to a criminal conviction.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Police chiefs tell officers to stop issuing instant £10,000 Covid fines | World news

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