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Dozens wrongly charged in UK under coronavirus law

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Police officers speak to people taking part in a coronavirus anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine, anti-5G and pro-freedom protest in London on May 2, 2020.
Police officers speak to people taking part in a coronavirus anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine, anti-5G and pro-freedom protest in London on May 2, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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Scores of people were wrongly charged under the UK's new coronavirus laws, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) admitted on Friday.

The legislation, passed in late March this year, allows the prosecution of potentially infectious people who refuse to co-operate with police or public health officers who want to test them for COVID-19.

The CPS said all 44 cases filed under the Coronavirus Act up until the end of April were incorrectly charged.

Others were charged under separate legislation, The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 and pertain as to whether someone has a reasonable excuse for being outside their homes amid lockdown.

CPS said the vast majority — 175 out of 187 — of cases filed under this legislation had been properly charged.

Among the cases found to have been correctly charged were:

  • Travelling from Leicester to London for a party;
  • Refusing to stay at home despite being advised by the police on multiple occasions and subsequently being found wandering around town;
  • Groups of young people in a park, drinking together, displaying anti-social behaviour, and returning once moved on.

The 12 cases that were withdrawn "usually involved Welsh regulations being applied in England and vice versa," the CPS said.

Matt Hewitt, National Police Chief's Council chair stressed that these had been "unprecedented circumstances" and that "this has all be done at pace and everyone in the Criminal Justice System has had to deal with a new body of legislation, which has undoubtedly led to some confusion".

"We apologise for any mistakes but all parties have worked hard to manage this new legislation as effectively as they can to keep the public safe," he added.

The National Police Chief's Council also announced on Friday that between March 27 — when confinement measures were first introduced in the UK — and May 11, police in England and Wales respectively issued 13,445 and 799 Fixed Penalty Notices.

In France, where the lockdown was stricter, more than 900,000 fines had been issued before the end of April.

The UK has recorded the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world with 33,693 fatalities as of Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins University.