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Every prosecution brought using controversial powers introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic has been wrongful, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) data show.
All 292 charges under the Coronavirus Act had been withdrawn in court, or overturned after innocent people were incorrectly charged in England and Wales.
The powers allowing police to prosecute any “potentially infectious person refusing to comply with a lawful instruction” have been wrongly applied in many of the cases.
One involved a 41-year-old woman, Marie Dinou, who was wrongly charged and fined £660 under the coronavirus laws after she refused to give police officers her name, address or reasons for travel when she was allegedly seen “loitering between platforms” at Newcastle Central Station.
British Transport Police admitted she had been charged under the incorrect section of the Coronavirus Act of 2020.
Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, who highlighted the figures, said the Act should be scrapped as the powers under it were “disproportionate, ill-considered and confusing”.
High rates of error when fines issued
Separate sets of laws, known as the Health Protection Regulations, were later introduced to enforce lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings, the wearing of face masks, quarantine and other measures.
The CPS data showed that 389 charges under the Health Protection Regulations had also been unlawful between March 2020 and March 2021 – 20 per cent of the total 1,920 cases.
Overall, 691 incorrect charges were identified out of 2,212 prosecutions using all coronavirus laws, meaning nearly a third (31 per cent) were wrongful.
Suspected breaches of coronavirus laws are mostly punished using fines rather than arrests and prosecutions – but fines that are not paid may result in a criminal charge.
Earlier this year, parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights called for the more than 85,000 fines issued to be reviewed.
Members said that despite fines for some offences being as large as £10,000, there were “high rates of error” in issuing and a disproportionate impact on different groups.
“Many more penalties may have been paid by people too intimidated by the prospect of a criminal trial to risk contesting their fine through a criminal prosecution,” the committee added.
The same report said it was “astonishing” that the Coronavirus Act was still being universally misused for prosecutions.