Almost three in five coronavirus fines issued in Norfolk not paid

Almost three in five coronavirus fines issued in Norfolk were not paid within 28 days. Pic: James Ba

Almost three in five coronavirus fines issued in Norfolk were not paid within 28 days. Pic: James Bass. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2012

Almost three in five coronavirus fines issued in Norfolk have gone unpaid, new figures suggest.

Figures have shown that just over 58pc of the fines issued by Norfolk police went unpaid within 28 days between March 27 and September 21.

Norfolk police issued 410 of the fines, but 238 of them had not been paid within 28 days. In Suffolk 262 were issued and 149 were not paid - just under 57pc.

Among those issued fines in Norfolk were three University of East Anglia students, who threw a party at a Norwich home attended by about 100 people.Police were called to the address in Bowthorpe Road, Norwich, at around 1.10am on Sunday, October 11 and broke up the party.

Two women, both 20, and a third woman, 19, who all lived at the address, were issued with £10,000 fines.

That was the fixed penalty notice for breaking the ban on being involved in holding a gathering of more than 30 people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The data was obtained the Press Association under Freedom Of Information Act legislation.

It comes as police forces were told to resume handing out £10,000 so-called super-fines less than a week after a decision to suspend them.

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Norfolk Police have been contacted for comment about their plans for after December 2 - when the second coronavirus lockdown is due to come to an end - and how they are preparing to enforce restrictions but they were unable to comment at this time.

The highest proportion of unpaid fines was in the Cleveland force area, where 72pc of fines for the period, 215 out of 298, went unpaid.

In Northumbria the proportion was 68pc, with 188 out of 278 fines not paid, while in West Yorkshire 66pc of fines, 497 out of 756, went unpaid, according to data from the criminal records office ACRO which administers the fines.

It was previously disclosed that about half of fines nationally went unpaid in the 28-day period, although chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Martin Hewitt said this proportion is similar to other fixed-penalty notices.

The total number of fines issued in England and Wales between March 27 and September 21 was 18,912.

People who receive a coronavirus fine can appeal in the first instance to the police force that handed out the penalty, to try to get it withdrawn.

The figures provide a snapshot of data gathered by forces as of September 21, and as a result of the way the figures are recorded, may contain some overlap between the number of unpaid fines, those rescinded and formally contested.

Lawyer Raj Chada, head of the criminal defence department at Hodge Jones & Allen, described Covid regulations as a “mess” and said criminal law needed to be clear and consistent otherwise it becomes “arbitrary and unfair”.

Kirsty Brimelow QC, a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, told PA it was “predictable” people would stop paying fines, with some not being able to afford to pay them, or not feeling they did break any laws, while others “may just be resentful that those in power acted as if the laws did not apply to them”.

Calling for panels to be set up to review fines, she said: “Currently, it is a lottery whether you are fined and whether it will be rescinded.

“And it is questionable as to how effective issuing fines is to preventing the spread of the virus.

“Rather they are adding stress and hardship to people who already are suffering.”

On Tuesday, it emerged forces were last week told to stop handing out £10,000 super-fines and instead issue a court summons amid concerns there was potential disparity in the process for those asked to pay up within 28 days and others who challenge the penalty notices in court.

Later that day, the NPCC said it had resolved the issue by agreeing that anyone issued with an fixed penalty notice would be made fully aware of the right to fight it in court.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) said: “Following discussions with government, the issue we flagged last Friday has been fully addressed, and forces are advised that they can resume issuing £10,000 FPNs where appropriate.

“People found to be in breach of the regulations relating to gatherings of over 30 people will be made fully aware of their options when faced with a £10k FPN, to ensure fairness.

“The option of Summons will remain available to officers, as it always has been, should the unique circumstances of a case mean that this is the most appropriate course of action. However, the vast majority of cases can be dealt with by way of FPN.” Owen Weatherill, the officer leading the policing response to the pandemic, told MPs last month that it had taken forces time to understand the changing lockdown rules, and said that he had pushed the Government to keep messaging for the public simple.

A spokesman for the NPCC said: “We have enforced the law as set by the Government and Parliament. It is only right that fines are then processed in accordance with the law and we therefore encourage people not intending to contest a fine to pay it.

“If any individuals are concerned about why they have received a fine, they can raise it with the force which issued the FPN within the 28-day payment period.

“Officers will have recorded their justifications for issuing an FPN, along with providing evidence to support any breaches of the regulations.

“Once a fine is contested or unpaid the case will proceed to court. Police forces review all of these cases to further ensure only those cases that meet the evidential and public interest test are heard in court.”

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