Coronavirus: Police admit second wrongful conviction under new laws during lockdown

Prosecution of 15-year-old boy under Coronavirus Act among other cases being reviewed

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 14 April 2020 12:40 BST
Some police may have gone too far in enforcing lockdown, senior Tory admits

Police have admitted a second wrongful conviction under new coronavirus laws, as several cases are reviewed.

The 21-year-old man was arrested outside a leisure centre in Tooting, southwest London, on 28 March.

He was charged with violating schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which only applies to “potentially infectious persons” and was intended to support quarantine measures.

The same law was used in the first known miscarriage of justice since the start of the UK’s lockdown, of a woman who was fined £660 after “loitering” at a railway station.

Her conviction was quashed after lawyers and journalists at The Independent and The Times raised concerns.

The latest case was overturned after the Press Association agency questioned the Metropolitan Police about how the law had been applied in London magistrates’ court cases.

The force defended its officers for questioning Lukas Karuzel, who was also charged with possession of class B drugs and going equipped to steal.

He appeared at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court on 30 March and pleaded guilty to the offences, as well as acting contrary to schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act.

He was fined £200 for possession of drugs and £60 for the offence under the Coronavirus Act 2020.

But the case was reviewed at the same court on Wednesday, and it was identified that the coronavirus law had been “applied incorrectly”. The charge and fine were set aside.

“Karuzel was incorrectly charged with an offence under the Coronavirus Act 2020,” a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said.

“This legislation only relates to ‘potentially infectious persons’ which was not applicable in these circumstances. The charges for possession of class B drugs and going equipped to steal were not overturned and the £200 fine stands.”

The force defended its officers, saying they had rightly dealt with a man who was suspected of unrelated crimes and had been in a public space without reasonable excuse.

“This is very new legislation and we have been working with all of our frontline officers to help them interpret and understand it,” a spokesperson added.

“The officers involved have been spoken to and reminded of the way the legislation should be applied.

“We will continue to work with the public and engage with them, explain why the restrictions are so important, educate them as to what they need to do and encourage them to go home. Enforcement remains a last resort.”

The case of a 15-year-old boy, who was also charged under the Coronavirus Act 2020, is being reviewed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The teenager was arrested in Kingston, southwest London, on 2 April and later charged with possession of a bladed article in a public place and violating the Coronavirus Act.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court the following day and is due back before the same court on 6 May.

A CPS spokesperson said: “We keep cases under review and that will be considered at the next hearing.”

The CPS said no figures were yet available on the number of charges brought under the Coronavirus Act or how many were being reviewed.

The same law appears to have been used incorrectly in another case, of a man who was charged but let off without punishment when the prosecution was moved under the separate Health Protection Regulations.

Another London man, 33-year-old Hassan Adnan, is due to appear in court charged with a Coronavirus Act offence, which he denies, in August.

In Warwickshire, 27-year-old Robert Grant has been charged with failure to comply with a restriction imposed under the Coronavirus Act, drink-driving and aggravated vehicle taking following a collision in Bedworth last week.

He is due to appear at Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court on 18 May.

Official guidance distributed to police officers after the Tooting arrest states that the Coronavirus Act 2020 is meant to support public health workers.

“[These are] exceptional powers for exceptional circumstances only,” it says. “We don’t expect you to use these powers in the course of ordinary duty and you really shouldn’t unless asked by a public health officer.”

It came into force on 25 March and had been drafted at a time when the threat was perceived to mainly come from people entering the UK from abroad.

The law enables health officials to direct people to hospitals or testing centres, and gives powers for police to enforce their instructions.

Schedule 21 creates an offence of “failing without reasonable excuse to comply with any direction, reasonable instruction, requirement or restriction” imposed as part of the act.

But the law can only apply to “potentially infectious persons” and is separate to the newer Health Protection Regulations that allow police to enforce the UK lockdown.

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