Covid rulebreakers in Bedfordshire slapped with more than £5,000 in court fines

All the convictions were for breaches of emergency restrictions

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 12:15 pm

Dozens of people were convicted and fined for breaching coronavirus laws in Bedfordshire last year, figures show.

The financial penalties have been criticised by campaign groups who also say many nationally did not get a fair hearing due to the introduction a fast-track court process.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data shows in 2020, there were 50 court prosecutions in the area served by Bedfordshire Police for breaches of restrictions introduced at the beginning of the pandemic.

In 37 of the 38 convictions where the sex and age were recorded, the defendant was male

They resulted in 39 convictions, with all leading to fines.

The largest number of fines – 28 – ranged from £200 to £250 while 28 convictions resulted in fines of between £200 and £250.

In total, £7,205 in fines were issued by the courts in Bedfordshire.

All the convictions were for breaches of emergency restrictions.

The figures detail all prosecution outcomes, so the same defendant could have been listed more than once.

Last week, Bedford Today revealed almost 1,000 Covid fines had been issued by Bedfordshire Police with the police chief urging people not to be complacent - particularly in Bedford as restrictions ease.

Six of those fines in the county were for breaching international travel rules, while 58 were for failing to wear a face covering.

Across England and Wales, of 4,365 prosecutions against people for breaching coronavirus laws, 3,535 (81 per cent) resulted in convictions.

In total, £1.3 million in fines were issued. Not one conviction led to the maximum fine of £10,000.

The figures come amid criticism of the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions, in particular the use of a fast-track system where cases are dealt with by a legal adviser and a single magistrate out of court.

This process, known as the single justice procedure, is aimed at reducing paperwork and freeing up court time, but in a report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, MPs and peers said it meant defendants were unable provide any reasonable excuse for why they breached the law.

Campaign groups including Fair Trials and Transform Justice have since sent a letter to the Government calling for the practice to be stopped.

Griff Ferris, legal and policy officer at Fair Trials, a criminal justice watchdog, said it was unjust for people to be criminalised and fined by an "opaque and unchecked process behind closed doors”.

The MoJ said the decision to use the single justice procedure lay with the prosecutor.

The MoJ figures also show men were more likely to be convicted of breaching Covid laws in Bedfordshire last year – in 37 of the 38 convictions where the sex and age were recorded, the defendant was male.

People aged between 21 and 24 accounted for the largest proportion of convictions.