A Lockdown Sceptics reader has emailed to say in a recent conversation with a senior police officer and a barrister he was authoritatively informed that fines currently being levied for Covid travel infractions have no basis in law and no action can be taken if they are not paid – and in their view they should not be paid. The following account has been confirmed by the barrister concerned.
Was present last week at an interesting discussion between a senior police officer and a barrister regarding the police fines currently being issued to drivers deemed by the police to be travelling unnecessarily.
The conversation arose when my wife related the story of her cousin who had been issued with a £1,000 fine having been stopped by police while returning home following collection of a new puppy. The officer deemed the trip to be “non-essential” and “without reasonable purpose” and as a consequence issued the ticket which she subsequently paid.
This sparked a debate between my two clients who both agreed within short order that in their view the fine should not have been paid as the legal basis set out in the Coronavirus Act for such fines is questionable and open to challenge.
The view of the two law professionals was that the Act fails to define the most important terms in respect of what is ‘reasonable’ and does not contain a definition of what a “reasonable” person would deem to be a “reasonable” excuse for leaving their home. They suggested that in the absence of a more highly specified definition (which may well be impossible) that this is a subjective judgement, open to individual interpretation and as a consequence difficult to enforce, introducing as it does reasonable doubt about guilt.
Indeed it would appear the CPS are aware of the difficulty given that of the 44 cases that they have been asked to prosecute following non-payment of such fines, 31 have been withdrawn by them and a further 13 have been sent back as “incorrectly charged”.
Clearly the CPS may be unwilling to apply an expensive judicial test to a case they understand they are likely to lose whilst making themselves liable for defence costs consequent upon the return of a not guilty verdict.
One further point is that if the “view” that there is no legal basis for enforcing payment of these fines is vindicated it does lead to the prospect of a future civil class action by individuals, such as my wife’s cousin, to reclaim their payment together with any costs associated with taking such action. And it should be noted that anyone in this position has up to six years to lodge any such claim.
In 12 months might we then expect TV advertisements by the usual suspects with the strapline: “Have you been fined while maskless, driving to your Zumba class in Ponytpridd? If so please call… etc.”