Police chiefs have asked the Government to provide ‘urgent’ clarification about their suspension of the £10,000 ‘super fines’ for breaching coronavirus restrictions.
The West Midlands Police chief constable said officers stopped handing out the fines ‘last week’ after the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) issued advice with concerns about the lack of means-testing in the process.
Ordinarily fines go to court and they are means-tested, meaning the recipient’s ability to pay is taken into account.
Now people found in serious breach of coronavirus restrictions will be given a court summons that will be able to test someone’s means and issue fines accordingly.
Labour’s West Midlands regional police and crime commissioner David Jamieson said the move is a ‘deeply embarrassing situation and I think has in some way actually undermined some of the work our excellent officers are doing’.
He has now written to policing minister Kit Malthouse for a ‘rapid response’, claiming the Government had failed to provide the police with ‘workable Covid legislation’.
Explaining the decision, West Midlands chief constable David Thompson, who is also vice-chairman of NPCC, said: ‘I think it’s unfortunate. It is unhelpful this issue has arisen, but actually there is still legislation.
‘The point I would make to the public is we will carry on enforcing this area of the law. The difference is it won’t be a ticket, it will be through a summons.’
Nottinghamshire’s Labour police and crime commissioner, Paddy Tipping, echoed Mr Jamieson’s feelings and said he was ‘surprised at the guidance from the NPCC’ having received a written commendation from Home Secretary Priti Patel for being the first force to issue a super-fine.
Mr Thompson said: ‘The issue is – last week – the fixed penalty notice was suspended and that is because of the debate over the means by which the person can meet the cost of that fine would normally be assessed by a court.
‘The level (of fine) is so high there is a concern emerging that actually levying through a fixed penalty is problematic.
‘So the force has moved to a position where we will report people for a summons for this particular offence and they’ll go to court through that route.’
He added that the force had employed a ‘very tight policy’ around issuing the super-fines ‘because we have been very conscious a £10,000 levied fine is substantial’.
‘We have never issued tickets where we don’t have a considerable amount of evidence,’ he added.
Mr Jamieson asked what the situation was for those fined who had already paid asking ‘if they will be getting a rebate’ or ‘go to court retrospectively’ and those who had not yet paid but the chief constable was unable to answer.
The commissioner said: ‘The fact we were enthusiastic about helping the Government in enforcing the Covid legislation I have to say for myself – and I have been supporting it as well – is deeply embarrassing now that we have found that the legislation has been found wanting.
‘It hasn’t been properly thought-through. It has led to what I consider to be a deeply embarrassing situation and I think has in some way actually undermined some of the work our excellent officers are doing.
‘I have written to the policing minister expressing my extreme anger this legislation wasn’t properly thought-through and led us into the position we were in today.’
The NPCC and the Home Office have both been approached for comment.
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