Covid rulebreakers in Hertfordshire slapped with more than £5,000 in court fines

The largest number of fines ranged from £200 to £250

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 10:09 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 10:10 am

Dozens of people were convicted and fined for breaching coronavirus laws in Hertfordshire last year, figures show.

Ministry of Justice data shows in 2020, there were 36 court prosecutions in the area served by Hertfordshire Police for breaches of restrictions introduced at the beginning of the pandemic.

They resulted in 32 convictions, with all leading to fines.

Police stock image
Police stock image

The largest number of fines – 25 – ranged from £200 to £250 while one conviction resulted in a fine of between £300 and £500.

In total, £6,150 in fines were issued by the courts in Hertfordshire.

All the convictions were for breaches of emergency restrictions.

The figures detail all prosecution outcomes, so the same defendant could have been listed more than once.

Hertfordshire Police's Chief Superintendent Nick Caveney said: “Throughout the pandemic, thankfully the vast majority of people in Hertfordshire have done the right thing and followed the rules so that we have not issued a large number of fixed penalty notices.

“A very small number of people have contested coronavirus fines issued by our officers through the court system, with most going on to pay a larger fine and additional costs. This does not entail a criminal conviction.

“In Hertfordshire, as elsewhere, police officers continue to play an important role in helping the UK beat the virus and we will take swift and necessary action against those who blatantly disregard the rules.

“Our officers will continue to carry out patrols and will engage with the public to keep explaining the restrictions which remain in place at the time. Enforcement action is a last resort.”

The force is working with local authorities, licensing authorities, COVID marshals and businesses as lockdown eases.

If you believe someone may be breaching the COVID-19 regulations, you can report information online, or call 101.

Across England and Wales, of 4,365 prosecutions against people for breaching coronavirus laws, 3,535 (81 per cent) resulted in convictions.

In total, £1.3 million in fines were issued. Not one conviction led to the maximum fine of £10,000.

The financial penalties have been criticised by campaign groups who also say many nationally did not get a fair hearing due to the introduction a fast-track court process.

The figures come amid criticism of the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions, in particular the use of a fast-track system which sees cases dealt with by a legal adviser and a single magistrate out of court.

This process, known as the single justice procedure, is aimed at reducing paperwork and freeing up court time, but in a report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, MPs and peers said it meant defendants were unable provide any reasonable excuse for why they breached the law.

More than 1,000 defendants were tried for Covid offences using this fast-track process between July and September last year, the committee said.

Campaign groups including Fair Trials and Transform Justice have since sent a letter to the Government calling for the practice to be stopped.

Griff Ferris, legal and policy officer at Fair Trials, a criminal justice watchdog, said it was unjust for people to be criminalised and fined by an "opaque and unchecked process behind closed doors”.

He added: “The single justice procedure is rushed justice, on the cheap, and it is completely inappropriate for assessing charges under confusing lockdown laws.”

The MoJ said the decision to use the single justice procedure lay with the prosecutor.

A spokesperson said: "The single justice procedure allows those who plead guilty to low-level, non-imprisonable crimes to resolve their case without going to court – it would not be used for more serious offences.

"All defendants can request an open hearing and have their conviction voiced and reheard if necessary."

The MoJ figures also show men were more likely to be convicted of breaching Covid laws in Hertfordshire last year – in 22 of the 31 convictions where the sex and age were recorded, the defendant was male.

People aged between 18 and 20 accounted for the largest proportion of convictions.