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THE first arrest made against someone for not complying with lockdown rules was carried out using the wrong law, it was revealed today.
Marie Dinou from York was detained by officers for “refusing to speak” at Newcastle Central station last Saturday and subsequently fined £660.
She was prosecuted under the Coronavirus Act for failing to provide her identity or reasons for travel to the police when asked, according to the Times newspaper.
Guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs Council however says that under the new regulations officers have no power to compel someone to explain themselves.
A leading lawyer told the Times Ms Dinou had therefore been prosecuted “for an offence which does not exist under this Act.”
The apparent bungle highlights concerns raised previously by human rights and civic society groups about the new police powers and the implications they pose for civil liberties.
Individual officers can exercise huge discretion in enforcing social distancing rules, including punishments of a £60 fine which doubles to £120 for a second offence.
Kevin Blowe, a co-ordinator at police monitoring group Netpol, said: “British policing at every level has started from the position of refusing to believe the vast majority of us are capable of making efforts to contain the coronavirus without coercion and constant threats.
“In turn, this had led to officers with extraordinary discretion to interpret a law they don’t really understand to still use it in any way they see fit.”
The discretion individual officers have has led to accusations that police are being “overzealous” with their new powers.
However Mr Blowe argued that it “isn’t about whether some officers are ‘over-eager’ in a time of crisis.”
“This is precisely what many, especially from working-class and racialised communities, had already experienced every day in their interactions with the police,” he pointed out.
Civil rights group Privacy International announced today that expanded surveillance measures being implemented across hundreds of countries during the coronavirus crisis are “unprecedented.”
Measures imposed range from the use of informants, police monitors, hand stamping and public naming of individuals to high-tech tracking apps and mass surveillance tools.
Privacy International advocacy director Edin Omanovic said: “The laws, powers, and technologies being deployed around the world pose a grave and long-term threat to human freedom.
“Some measures are based on public health measures with significant protections, while others amount to little more than opportunistic power grabs.”
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