Every lawsuit under Covid’s emergency powers was wrong, official review finds
All lawsuits filed using controversial powers introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic have been unwarranted, according to data from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The 292 charges under the Coronavirus Act had either been withdrawn in court or quashed after innocent people were wrongfully indicted in England and Wales.
Powers allowing the police to prosecute any “potentially contagious person refusing to comply with a legal instruction” have been poorly applied in many cases.
One involved a 41-year-old woman, Marie Dinou, who was wrongfully indicted and fined £ 660 under coronavirus laws after refusing to give police her name, address or reasons for her trip when she was reportedly seen ‘strolling between platforms’ at Newcastle Central Station.
UK Transport Police have admitted she was charged under the incorrect section of the 2020 Coronavirus Act.
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael, who highlighted the numbers, said the law should be scrapped because the powers that flow from it are “disproportionate, reckless and confusing.”
Separate sets of laws, known as the Health Protection Regulations, were later introduced to enforce closures, restrictions on gatherings, wearing face masks, quarantine and other measures.
CPS data showed that 389 charges under the Health Protection Regulations were also illegal between March 2020 and March 2021 – 20% of the total of 1,920 cases.
Overall, 691 incorrect charges were identified out of 2,212 prosecutions using all coronavirus laws, meaning that almost a third (31%) were wrongful.
Alleged breaches of coronavirus laws are mainly punished with fines rather than arrests and prosecutions – but fines that are not paid can lead to criminal prosecution.
Earlier this year, Parliament’s Joint Human Rights Committee called for the more than 85,000 fines imposed to be reviewed.
Members said that despite fines for some offenses of up to £ 10,000, there were ‘high error rates’ in issuance and a disproportionate impact on different groups.
“Many other fines may have been paid by people too intimidated by the prospect of a criminal trial to risk challenging their fine through criminal prosecution,” the committee added.
The same report said it was “astonishing” that the coronavirus law is still being misused for prosecution.