Britons are being fined for breaches of coronavirus lockdown regulations that are “unclear and ambiguous”, a parliamentary committee has warned.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights said it was “unacceptable” that “many thousands” were receiving fixed penalty notices (FPNs) despite evidence the police did not fully understand their powers.
It added that the way regulations were being enforced by the police was having a “disproportionate impact” on young men from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
Currently, there is no realistic way for people to challenge FPNs, which could result in fines in excess of £10,000 in England.
“This will invariably lead to injustice as members of the public who have been unfairly targeted with an FPN have no means of redress and police will know that their actions are unlikely to be scrutinised,” the committee said.
Many of the regulations were “confusingly named,” the committee warned, which makes it difficult for people to establish what they can and cannot do.
The committee advised the government to call for greater clarity on the rules and “distinguish between advice, guidance and the law” as regulations change on average once a week.
“In particular, more must be done to make the up to date regulations themselves (not only guidance) clearly accessible online, particularly as the law has changed, on average, once a week,” the committee said.
“It ought to be straightforward for a member of the public to find out what the current criminal law is, nationally and in their local area, without having to trawl through multiple sets of confusingly named regulations.”
Committee chairwoman Harriet Harman said: “Confusion over what is law and what is merely guidance has left citizens open to disproportionate and unequal levels of punishment for breaking the rules, and unfortunately, it seems that once again, this is overtly affecting BAME individuals.
“The government must learn from these mistakes to ensure that any additional lockdowns do not unfairly impact specific groups.”
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In an interview with Sky News, Ms Harman said there “must be an opportunity to appeal or review in the way that you would for a parking fine”.
“Obviously the government are announcing these fines because they want to throw all of the weight that there is of government behind ensuring that these restrictive measures work. That is the sole objective of it,” she said.
She added that government feels it is “necessary to get the message across that everybody must abide by the rules.”
It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that the UK is facing a “tipping point” where “more restrictive measures” could be brought in to slow the spread of coronavirus.
He told Sophy Ridge On Sunday he was “worried” too many people are breaching self-isolation guidance, leading to the government making it illegal in England.
Mr Hancock said people should report on their neighbours for breaking any of the emergency COVID-19 laws.
Asked if he would, the cabinet minister said: “Yes – and everybody should… Everybody has got a part to play in this.”
A government spokesperson said they had worked closely with the police throughout the pandemic, and officers had enforced regulations only as a last resort.
They added: “Both Houses (of Parliament) have opportunities to scrutinise and debate all regulations, which must be approved by both Houses within 28 days to remain in force. This is the same way all lockdown regulations have been made and none have been voted down.”