Covid rulebreakers in Lancashire slapped with more than £10,000 in court fines
Scores of people across county hauled before courts for breaching coronavirus laws
Dozens of people were convicted and fined for breaching coronavirus laws in Lancashire last year, figures show.
The financial penalties have been criticised by campaign groups who also say many nationally did not get a fair hearing due to the introduction a fast-track court process.
Ministry of Justice data shows in 2020, there were 228 court prosecutions in the area served by Lancashire Constabulary for breaches of restrictions introduced at the beginning of the pandemic.
They resulted in 71 convictions, with all leading to fines.
The largest number of fines – 54 – ranged from £200 to £250 while two convictions resulted in fines of between £500 and £750.
In total, £16,859 in fines were issued by the courts in Lancashire.
All the convictions were for breaches of emergency restrictions.
The figures detail all prosecution outcomes, so the same defendant could have been listed more than once.
Across England and Wales, of 4,365 prosecutions against people for breaching coronavirus laws, 3,535 (81 per cent) resulted in convictions.
In total, £1.3 million in fines were issued. Not one conviction led to the maximum fine of £10,000.
The figures come amid criticism of the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions, in particular the use of a fast-track system which sees cases dealt with by a legal adviser and a single magistrate out of court.
This process, known as the single justice procedure, is aimed at reducing paperwork and freeing up court time, but in a report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, MPs and peers said it meant defendants were unable provide any reasonable excuse for why they breached the law.
More than 1,000 defendants were tried for Covid offences using this fast-track process between July and September last year, the committee said.
Campaign groups including Fair Trials and Transform Justice have since sent a letter to the Government calling for the practice to be stopped.
Griff Ferris, legal and policy officer at Fair Trials, a criminal justice watchdog, said it was unjust for people to be criminalised and fined by an "opaque and unchecked process behind closed doors”.
He added: “The single justice procedure is rushed justice, on the cheap, and it is completely inappropriate for assessing charges under confusing lockdown laws.”
The MoJ said the decision to use the single justice procedure lay with the prosecutor.
A spokesperson said: "The single justice procedure allows those who plead guilty to low-level, non-imprisonable crimes to resolve their case without going to court – it would not be used for more serious offences.
"All defendants can request an open hearing and have their conviction voiced and reheard if necessary."
The MoJ figures also show men were far more likely to be convicted of breaching Covid laws in Lancashire last year – in 59 of the 70 convictions where the sex and age were recorded, the defendant was male.
People aged between 30 and 39 accounted for the largest proportion of convictions.