Brits slapped with Covid fines ought to be let off says ex-Tory courts chief

Almost 30,000 people handed criminal convictions for breaking Covid rules should be let off, the top Tory who ran courts during the pandemic has said.

Sir Robert Buckland, who oversaw the courts system as Justice Secretary during the pandemic, said the 29,383 who have criminal convictions should have their “slates wiped clean”. He warned against punishing people’s career prospects for fines they were given during an “exceptional time”.

While many people were handed fixed penalty notices by police (including Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak), others were issued fines by the magistrates courts, which are categorised as criminal convictions. Having a criminal record can bar people from getting jobs such as teachers, social workers or police officers.

Three quarters of fines handed out between 2020 and 2023 went to people under the age of 40, with offences including going to gatherings, leaving home during lockdowns and failing to wear face masks. Magistrates issued some £26million in fines – higher than any other crimes since the pandemic began apart from driving offences and TV licences.

Sir Robert told the Telegraph said: “It is not proportionate or necessary at a time when we want to encourage and support as many people back to work as possible. If it is not being recorded in the usual way as a previous conviction, I would wipe the slate clean.”

Sir David Davis, a former cabinet minister, also told the newspaper: “Much of the Covid regulation was heavy handed, unnecessary and penalised people wrongly. For this to turn into a lifetime penalty is a shameful disgrace and we should correct it as soon as possible.” Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary, said: “It is time for an amnesty on Covid fines which were an unnecessarily draconian measure at the time but with hindsight look entirely disproportionate.”

Penelope Gibbs, director of charity Transform Justice, added: “The Covid laws were enacted too hastily, poorly drafted and badly explained. So people often broke the law unwittingly and had no right to free legal advice if they were prosecuted. Many of those fined now have criminal convictions which could harm their job chances for years to come. We should have an amnesty that wipes the slate clean of all these Covid offences.”

Asked about Sir Robert’s call, Mr Sunak said he was “not familiar” with the demand despite them being on the front page of the Telegraph newspaper. Asked whether he agreed with him that the slate should be wiped clean for people sanctioned over breaches, he told reporters in East Anglia: “I’m not actually familiar with what Robert has said.”

Mr Sunak, who was fined for a Covid rule breach while serving as Chancellor, added: “This election is about the future. Covid was a very difficult time for our country, right? And that was followed by a war in Ukraine… this election is about how do we build going forward. When it comes to Covid, it’s important we learn all the lessons of Covid and that’s why we have a full public inquiry.”