A coalition of civil rights groups have penned a letter to Secretary of State for Justice, to demand an end to prosecution of charges brought under the Health Protection Regulations, and Coronavirus Act 2020, through a procedure known as the Single Justice Procedure (SJP).
The SJP allows a bypass of normal court proceedings permitting charges to be adjudicated by a single magistrate based predominantly on police evidence, resulting in people being notified of prosecutions by post, irrespective of whether they enter a plea or not.
Campaigners point to the fact that 18% of charges brought under the health regulations, and an alarming 100% of charges brought under the act, were overturned by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after review.
This represents nearly 33% of all charges brought under both the regulations and act, which demonstrates that a significant number of charges that were brought were unlawful.
The use of the SJP essentially denies defendants this right of review, which campaigners citing the overwhelming evidence, feel is “not an appropriate mechanism for dealing with charges under the Regulations and the Act”, and that its continued use will result in “many more unlawful charges” for alleged breaches.
Only last month the CPS issued a statement which laid out a commitment to review all coronavirus related charges, to ensure “new laws are being applied consistently and appropriately”, and to reach “the correct balance between public safety and acting in the interests of justice.”
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has also stated: “There are real concerns about the fairness of these [single justice procedure] hearings for an area of law whose enforcement has been riddled with errors”.
The SJP was initially set up in 2015 to “deal with simple, low-level, non-imprisonable cases delivered by the magistrates’ court”, the government’s website states.
Primarily used in menial cases such as speeding tickets, or watching television without a licence, the procedure has been adapted by the government with some pride, to “step up and prove how flexible it could be in dealing with unpredicted circumstances”.
Sadly that flexibility has come with grave inaccuracies and injustice, as campaigners now want the use of the SJP suspended for charges on the ambiguous legal terrain of coronavirus legislation, and the CPS to uphold its commitment, and ensure all cases are justly reviewed.