By S Neeraj Krishna
YOUNG men from black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities were facing a “disproportionate impact” of “unclear and ambiguous” Covid regulations being enforced in the UK, a parliamentary committee has observed.
Reports on Monday (21) said the Joint Committee on Human Rights said it was “unacceptable” that “many thousands” of Britons were being issued fixed penalty notices, “despite evidence the police did not fully understand their powers”.
“This will invariably lead to injustice as members of the public who have been unfairly targeted with an FPN have no means of redress and police will know that their actions are unlikely to be scrutinised,” the committee said, noting that the new laws were “overtly affecting” BAME people.
Notably, Met Police data in June, too, had revealed that a disproportionately high number of BAME people were being fined or arrested for lockdown breaches, prompting allegations of racial bias.
“Compared to their share of the population, people from a black ethnic minority were 2.17 times more likely to receive a fine and Asians around 26 per cent more likely. In comparison, whites were 23 per cent less likely to be fined,” Dr Krisztián Pósch, a crime science lecturer at University College London, had said at that time.
The human rights panel said that some of the new rules were “confusingly named”, leaving many people confused on dos and don’ts.
Analysts also highlighted there was no “realistic way” in which people could challenge FPNs that could include fines up to £10,000 in England, as per latest norms.
The committee urged the government to provide more clarity, and “distinguish between advice, guidance and the law” as rules were being changed frequently.
“In particular, more must be done to make the up-to-date regulations themselves (not only guidance) clearly accessible online, particularly as the law has changed, on average, once a week,” it said.
“It ought to be straightforward for a member of the public to find out what the current criminal law is, nationally and in their local area, without having to trawl through multiple sets of confusingly named regulations.”
Harriet Harman, chairwoman of the committee, stressed that the UK should learn from “mistakes to ensure that any additional lockdowns do not unfairly impact specific groups”.
“Confusion over what is law and what is merely guidance has left citizens open to disproportionate and unequal levels of punishment for breaking the rules, and unfortunately, it seems that once again, this is overtly affecting BAME individuals,” she said.
She also insisted there “must be an opportunity to appeal or review” as in the case of parking fines.
“Obviously the government is announcing these fines because they want to throw all of the weight that there is of government behind ensuring that these restrictive measures work. That is the sole objective of it,” Harman told Sky News.
She added that it was paramount to “get the message across that everybody must abide by the rules”, considering the rising concerns over surging coronavirus infections rates.
A government spokesperson said authorities had been “working closely” with police forces, and stringent enforcement of rules was used “as the last resort”.
“Both houses (of Parliament) have opportunities to scrutinise and debate all regulations, which must be approved by both Houses within 28 days to remain in force,” the spokesperson added. “This is the same way all lockdown regulations have been made and none have been voted down.”