People in Scotland's poorest areas 'more likely' to get Covid-19 fine

More than one in four fixed penalty notices were issued in deprived areas due to breaches of lockdown rules.

Scots in most deprived areas more likely to get Covid-19 fine according to a University of Edinburgh report iStock

People living Scotland’s most deprived areas were more likely to be handed a fine during the Covid-19 lockdown, a report has shown.

Residents of the 10% most deprived areas in the country were 2.6 times more likely to be handed a fine that those living in the least deprived areas, the report by Professor Susan McVie at the University of Edinburgh states.

During the initial stages of the pandemic, people living in the same deprived areas were judged to be 12.6 times more likely to be handed fines – but this reduced substantially over time.

Recipients also tended to be younger, with three quarters of fines being handed to people under the age of 30.

More than 20,000 police fixed penalty notices were registered by the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) during 2020/21 in relation to breaking lockdown rules.

The figures were analysed in a report titled Police Use of Covid-19 Fixed Penalty Notices in Scotland – published on the same day as a roundtable event organised by the Scottish Police Authority to reflect on the oversight of policing during the pandemic.

This report analyses quarterly fines data published by the SCTS as well as linked administrative data from Police Scotland and the SCTS.

Figures also showed fines issued to people for breaching the Covid-19 regulations in Scotland were more likely to be paid than fines issued to people for involvement in anti-social behaviour.

Lead researcher Professor McVie of Edinburgh Law School, said: “This report is the first in the UK to examine in detail the payment of fixed penalties issued in relation to breaches of the Covid-19 Regulations.

“Concerns that the public would reject these penalties, and fail to pay them, are not founded by this study. However, it does raise concern about the impact of incrementally increasing fines on those who may have been least able or willing to comply with the Regulations as it is likely that these individuals were also less able to pay their fines.

“Throughout the pandemic there was robust oversight of policing in Scotland, and reports have consistently shown that enforcement was the response of last resort for officers dealing with those who may be in breach of the Regulations.

“Nevertheless, it is difficult to say to whether the temporary policing powers contributed to reducing the spread of the disease or saving lives. Moreover, it is clear that the legitimacy of the Regulations in the eyes of the public waned over time, which posed significant challenges for the police.

“We recommend that the findings from this report should be considered in both the Scottish and UK public inquiries into the impact of the pandemic.”

Assistant chief constable Gary Ritchie said: “Throughout the pandemic, Police Scotland’s officers and staff stepped forward to explain fast-changing guidelines and emergency legislation to encourage people to do the right thing with consistency, compassion, common sense and discretion.

“Fixed penalty notices issued during the early phase of the pandemic were primarily issued in relation to travel infringements of the legislation. During the latter stage of the restrictions, officers were responding to calls from the public about gatherings or house parties where they engaged with people to encourage compliance.

“Fixed penalty notices were issued after all other avenues had been exhausted and only as a last resort.

“The vast majority of people followed the legislation and I want to thank our fellow citizens for their support and co-operation during the public health crisis.

“I am pleased the report recognises enforcement action was used only as a last resort, making up a small percentage of our many interactions with the public.”

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