Fair Trials submission to the Justice Committee: COVID-19 and the criminal law
In April 2021, Fair Trials submitted evidence to the Justice Committee on the effects of COVID-19 on criminal law in England and Wales. Changes to the operation of the criminal justice system, the increasing use of certain mechanisms during the pandemic, as well as new COVID-19 related criminal offences, have had a huge impact on criminal justice in England and Wales.
There have been significant and serious issues with disproportionate policing of COVID-19 regulations and laws, and in the resulting imposition of fines (through Fixed Penalty Notices) and criminal charges under those laws and regulations. As a result of this, and confusion amongst police, prosecutors, magistrates and judges over the new laws, there have been a significant and unacceptable number of unlawful prosecutions under those regulations and laws.
The increased use of trial waiver systems for COVID-19 related criminal cases, such as the Single Justice Procedure, has led to extremely concerning outcomes, with the vast majority of charges receiving no plea. Defendants are also facing prolonged pre-trial detention as custody time limits are extended repeatedly, with record numbers of people held in pre-trial detention and thousands held beyond the legal custody time limits, made to suffer in inhumane prison conditions due to the Government s refusal to release people on bail or to get cases heard on time.