Get the latest on coronavirus. Sign up to the Daily Brief for news, explainers, how-tos, opinion and more.
All 44 charges brought under the Coronavirus Act since it was introduced on March 27 were incorrect, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has confirmed.
The Coronavirus Act allows officers to remove or detain a “suspected infectious person” for screening and assessment, but the CPS said on Friday that dozens of people have been wrongly prosecuted.
When HuffPost UK requested a regional and ethnic breakdown of these cases, the CPS said it does not collect this data.
A total of 14,244 fines for alleged breaches of coronavirus lockdown laws were issued by police forces in England and Wales up to May 11, the National Police Chiefs’ Council also announced.
Martin Hewitt, National Police Chiefs’ Council chair, said: “These were unprecedented circumstances in which officers were presented with new powers within days of them being announced.
“This has all been done at pace and everyone in the criminal justice system has had to deal with a new body of legislation, which has undoubtedly led to some confusion.
“We apologise for the mistakes but all parties have worked hard to manage this new legislation as effectively as they can and to keep the public safe.”
Hewitt added: “It is right that any errors have been quickly identified and are being corrected through the CPS’s review process, and are also prevented by the additional safeguards now in place.
“Officers have received additional guidance on the correct use of legislation. We will of course continue to apply learning as we move forward through the current health emergency.”
This comes as new data published by the NPCC on Friday revealed that Black and Asian people have been disproportionately fined under the Coronavirus Act.
Out of 13,445 contraventions where the individual issued with the notice had a self-identified ethnicity recorded, more than three-quarters (78%) were issued to people who self identified as white.
However, 5% of recipients issued with fines were Black. This ethnic group accounts for 3% of the England and Wales population.
Some 13% of fines were handed to Asian people – who make up 7.5% of the population.
A total of 25% of fines issued did not have ethnicity of the individual identified.
The CPS reviewed all prosecutions brought under the Coronavirus Act and Health Protection Regulations to make sure the new laws are being applied consistently and appropriately, a spokesperson said.
The 44 charges were withdrawn because there was no evidence they covered potentially infectious people, which is what this law is intended for.
Gregor McGill, CPS director of legal services, said: “The CPS and our police colleagues are committed to ensuring our use of these new powers strikes the correct balance between public safety and acting in the interests of justice.
“In such a fast-moving and unprecedented situation, it is important there are safeguards to assist police and prosecutors in applying these laws correctly.”
He added: “I am confident the measures we have put in place will enhance the consistency of charging decisions across the country and ensure a fair criminal justice response for all as we adjust to these challenging times.”