Inquiry into new laws for covid-19 pandemic
10 March 2021
The House of Commons Select Committee on Justice is today, 10 March 2021 launching a Parliamentary Inquiry into how the criminal law has been changed and applied to deal with the covid-19 pandemic. The design and enforcement of the various laws that have been brought into force will be considered by the crossbench Committee.
Since the onset of the pandemic the Government has created a number of criminal offences to ensure compliance with restrictions such as the banning of groups of people meeting outside households.
Many of these offences empowered the police to issue Fixed Penalty Notices which, if not paid, could lead to a defendant risking criminal prosecution. More recently, the Government has changed the law to enable the ‘single justice procedure’ to be used to decide cases involving covid-19 offences. The single justice procedure means cases can be dealt with directly by magistrates and, if the defendant pleads guilty, without the defendant present.
In launching the inquiry, the Committee is seeking the views of interested and expert parties as well as people who may have been directly affected by the new laws. In particular, the Committee is seeking views on:
- The process under which covid-19 offences have been created
- The design of the offences, including the use of Fixed Penalty Notices and the relationship between the new offences and existing criminal law
- The checks and balances in place to review the way these offences have been policed and prosecuted, including the role of the Crown Prosecution Service
- The role of the courts, including the use of the single justice procedure and the way in which covid-19 offences and Fixed Penalty Notices can be appealed, challenged or contested in court.
The Committee will welcome written evidence up to 6pm on Friday 9 April. Please submit evidence through the website. It also plans to hold two oral evidence sessions, with a variety of witnesses, and intends to publish its report before the end of the summer Parliamentary session, with the precise date to be communicated in due course.