Campaigners write to Suffolk police over ‘discriminatory’ lockdown laws
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Campaigners are calling on Suffolk police to review fines issued for breaking coronavirus laws, believing the rules have been ‘discriminatory’ against people of colour.
Human rights groups Liberty and Big Brother Watch have written legal letters to the chief constables of 10 police forces in England and Wales - including Suffolk - which they claim have the “worst record of discrimination” under lockdown powers.
The groups are calling for fines to be reviewed to ensure they comply with equality laws and said the harshest punishments “fell hardest and most unfairly” on people of colour.
Steve Jupp, the chief constable for Suffolk, has been contacted, as have the forces for Dyfed-Powys, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, West Mercia, North Yorkshire, North Wales, Lancashire and Sussex.
Latest figures show Suffolk police issued 262 fixed penalty notices for breaches of Covid restrictions between March and September. Essex, a much larger county with a larger population, had issued 240.
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The news comes soon after the £10,000 fines for breaking lockdown rules were suspended because police chiefs flagged the potential disparity in punishment between those who accept the fixed penalty notice and those who challenged them in court.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has warned the Home Office that when fines go before magistrates they are means-tested, meaning the offender may only have to pay a significantly lower amount.
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Suffolk police said it is yet to issue any £10,000 fines for breaches of Covid-19 laws.
Grey Collier, advocacy director at Liberty, said: “This pandemic has been extremely hard for all of us, but for some there’s been the added threat of being criminalised and slapped with severe financial penalties, some of which have been given unlawfully.
“By prioritising criminal justice over public health, the government laid the foundations for overzealous policing that fell hardest and most unfairly on people of colour.
“The government and police must learn from the mistakes of the first lockdown. If they don’t, whatever goodwill remains will be diminished.”
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, added: “It’s no surprise that many police forces have already been forced to withdraw fines, given the significant and sustained confusion across the country as to what the rules actually are.
“As we face a winter of lockdowns, it’s more vital than ever that police forces urgently review the vast number of fines that have been issued.”
An NPCC spokesman said: “The rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus are there to protect us all.
“The very small minority who make decisions which put lives at risk and refuse to engage with police can expect to have enforcement action taken against them.
“People found to be in breach of the regulations relating to organising gatherings of over 30 people will be made fully aware of their options when faced with a £10,000 fixed penalty notice.
“Everyone given a fine can contest this at court.”