A group of students who were each given £10,000 fixed penalty notices (‘FPNs’) under Coronavirus Regulations for allegedly organising or facilitating an unlawful gathering have had their FPNs either replaced with FPNs requiring a payment of £200 (or £100 if paid within 14 days), or withdrawn entirely by the police force that issued them, following representations from Bindmans LLP.
Under emergency Coronavirus legislation, £10,000 FPNs can be issued where an authorised person (e.g. a police officer) reasonably believes that a person is guilty of holding, or being involved in the holding of, certain gatherings of over thirty people. The fines are potentially life-changing and, in reality, unaffordable for the vast majority of people. While those with the means to pay can avoid prosecution by paying the penalty amount, those who cannot afford to do so may end up with a criminal record that has a lasting impact on their lives and careers.
These eye-watering fines have come under scrutiny recently after the National Police Chiefs Council (‘NPCC’) issued an emergency order to stop officers handing out the £10,000 fines ‘amid concerns the government’s flagship deterrent is unfair’ given those who opt to risk prosecution rather than payment of the penalty may be sentenced to significantly lower fines if convicted in the magistrates’ court. However, police forces were given the green light to continue issuing the fines the following day after the NPCC held discussions with the government.
We are pleased and our clients are relieved that the police have acted sensibly and pragmatically and withdrawn the £10,000 FPNs in this case. It is important that people know that if FPNs have been wrongly imposed, or the fixed penalty amount is disproportionate in the circumstances of the case, then swift representations to the police may, potentially, lead to them being withdrawn or replaced, even though there is no formal route of appeal under the legislation. Much will depend on the attitude of the police force concerned. However, caution should be exercised when making representations to the police and legal advice sought, if possible.
FPNs under the Coronavirus Regulations
A person issued with an FPN under Coronavirus legislation who pays the fixed penalty amount within 28 days cannot be prosecuted for or convicted of the offence for which the FPN was issued. Payment of an FPN does not constitute an admission of guilt and does not form part of an individual’s ‘criminal record’ in the way that a conviction or a caution does.
For ‘non-recordable’ offences such as those under Coronavirus legislation, the fact that a person has received an FPN will not appear on the Police National Computer (‘PNC’), although it will be recorded on local police databases. Having been issued an FPN is not something that is likely to have to be disclosed to the vast majority of employers, although legal advice should be sought in respect of individual circumstances and allegations resulting in FPNs are, in theory, disclosable on ‘enhanced’ DBS certificates and may need to be brought to the attention of some employers and regulators.
A person issued with an FPN who decides against paying the fixed penalty amount may be prosecuted if the police/CPS consider there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and prosecution is in the public interest. A conviction will need to be disclosed to employers and regulators who ask until it is ‘spent’ and may need to be disclosed to those employers and regulators who are entitled to ask about spent convictions or cautions unless and until it becomes ‘filtered’.
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