All fines for coronavirus lockdown breaches should be reviewed, MPs have said.
More than 85,000 fixed penalty notices, which can be as high as £10,000, have been issued in England and Wales since the pandemic began.
But a parliamentary committee that is calling for all fines to be re-examined said they are “muddled, discriminatory and unfair”.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) said the system “criminalises the poor over the better-off” and no COVID-19 fine should result in a criminal record.
In a report, it raised “significant concerns” about the validity of the fines, the inadequacy of the review and appeal process, the size of the penalties and the criminalisation of those who cannot afford to pay.
Committee chairman Harriet Harman said: “Swift action to make restrictions effective is essential in the face of this terrible virus.
“But the government needs to ensure that rules are clear, enforcement is fair and that mistakes in the system can be rectified.
“None of that is the case in respect of COVID-19 fixed penalty notices.”
In January, two women who met for a walk with hot drinks at a Derbyshire beauty spot had their £200 COVID fines rescinded after police were criticised by MPs and human rights lawyers.
The JCHR’s report said coronavirus rules have changed at least 65 times since March 2020, creating “obvious challenges for police”.
Harman said: “Our inquiry has demonstrated that coronavirus regulations are neither straightforward nor easily understood either by those who have to obey them or the police who have to enforce them.
“With fixed penalties of up to £10,000 awarded irrespective of the individual’s financial circumstances, there is much at stake.
“The government needs to review the pandemic regulations and create new checks and balances to prevent errors and discrimination.”
The committee said: “It is possible to tell from penalties that have not been paid and have then progressed through the system towards a prosecution, that a significant number of FPNs [fixed penalty notices] are incorrectly issued.”
The report highlighted a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) review of prosecutions brought under coronavirus regulations that reached open court, which found in February 2021 that 27% were incorrectly charged.
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