UK: Tories Try Covid Law Play As Vote Winner

Senior Tories including ex-Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland have called for an amnesty for more than 29,000 people who were given criminal convictions for breaking Covid rules.

People who attended gatherings during lockdown, failed to wear face masks, and broke quarantine rules were prosecuted in criminal cases brought between 2020 and 2023, leading to fines of £26 million.

Most of the cases were dealt with in private court hearings in the controversial Single Justice Procedure, a system which even magistrates themselves say is broken and in need of reform.

Sir Robert, who was Justice Secretary when the pandemic struck and Covid regulations were first introduced, has now called for minsters to “wipe the slate clean” for all 29,383 people who were convicted.

At least 3,000 of those convicted have been left with a criminal record, The Standard revealed two years ago, affecting their ability to travel abroad and potentially appearing on background checks for future job applications.

Sir Robert is calling for an amnesty for fines handed out by the courts in the “exceptional time” of the pandemic, saying: “It is not proportionate or necessary at a time when we want to encourage and support as many people back to work as possible. If it is not being recorded in the usual way as a previous conviction, I would wipe the slate clean.”

Penelope Gibbs, the director of Transform Justice, compared the convictions on people’s records to a “life sentence”, and pointed out the laws were hastily drafted and badly explained by government.

The call for an amnesty, a few weeks before the General Election, has been backed by Conservatives Sir Jacob Rees Mogg and Sir David Davis, who said: “Much of the Covid regulation was heavy handed, unnecessary and penalised people wrongly. For this to turn into a lifetime penalty is a disgrace.”

A myriad of Covid laws were brought in during the pandemic, with last minute announcements causing confusion and even police officers struggled to differentiate between laws and non-binding government guidance.

The proposed amnesty would not cover the tens of thousands of people who were issued with, and paid fixed penalty fines after being accused of breaking the rules. Those who did not pay the fine were then taken to court.