Statistics suggest that the coronavirus crisis has led to a significant drop in recorded crime, by as much as 20% in some areas. However, there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is and resulting ‘lockdown’ is placing a strain on every aspect of the criminal justice system.
Some commentators have suggested that the police may focus simply on the more serious crimes and on maintaining public order. Exactly what will happen is unclear, but with society in lockdown, there are certainly going to be individuals who see this as an opportunity to take a chance and engage in unlawful activity on the basis that there is a perceived reduced prospect of getting caught.
How we continue to support clients during lockdown
Criminal Defence Solicitors like me will continue to assist clients who have been arrested, are under investigation, on bail or facing criminal prosecution. However, the way in which those cases will be dealt with will inevitably change. Prisons, for example, are also in lockdown and so legal visits will, wherever possible, have to be via video link. Police interviews for clients arrested and detained at the police station are also affected. A colleague of mine recently represented her client during a police interview via a video link. She was at home on her laptop and conducted disclosure from the police, her consultation with her client and the interview via the video link.
What sort of offences will be committed?
The Coronavirus pandemic brings with it all sorts of increased financial pressures for the unemployed, individuals laid off from work, and the otherwise less fortunate financially. Perhaps the hardship hasn’t yet fully kicked in, but a significant increase in applications for government benefits gives a very good indication of those financially affected. A lot of crime is committed by individuals because of an inability to manage finances, because there is simply not enough to live on. The considerable pressures of not being able to pay for mortgages, rent, council tax, phones, clothes, food for the family will be very difficult to cope with and will create tremendous strain on individuals and families.
It is also a fact that some people rely on shoplifting to fund drug or other addictive habits, or to survive generally. With tighter security in shops and less shops open, those individuals may turn to other acquisitive crime.
The closure of pubs and clubs, which drive the night-time economy, and the fact that far more people are at home is likely to see some crimes decrease, but an increase in others. There will obviously be less violence from pub fights, less burglaries as everyone is home, but the heightened stress levels of being at home for so long is likely to increase domestic tensions. Domestic violence groups fear an increase in domestic violence. In one English County, an increase of 20% in domestic offending was noticed. Domestic abuse can of course include not just physical abuse, but mental abuse also, such as controlling and coercive behaviour. Some reports suggest that there have been as many as 27 domestic related killings since the Pandemic was first announced.
Coronavirus lockdown may lead to an increase in crime
Some police forces believe that crime may start to increase as the lockdown restrictions continue. The police are already reporting an increase in anti-social behaviour. With many people now cooped up in the same home for long periods it is perhaps not surprising that domestic violence has increased. In addition, there is likely to be an increase in internet crimes such as fraud and other on-line scams, as criminals play on people’s fear during the crisis. Some say that the Coronavirus will be a time for fraudsters, cyber-criminals, organised crime groups and paedophiles to ramp up their activities. With schools closed, there are reports of an increase in child exploitation as millions of children spend more time online. Others suggest that there could be an increase in child abuse.
Coronavirus & Crime – What will all this mean for your case?
The Coronavirus may mean that, although only the more serious offences are investigated at this present time, the police will have a significant backlog once the pandemic has passed, or at least sufficiently passed for life to get back to as normal as possible. There will almost certainly be an increase in reported crime once people are allowed to move more freely.
Given that the courts are only hearing cases where the defendant is in custody, or otherwise vulnerable, there will be many individuals who do not know what is happening with their case(s). Individuals are having their magistrates court cases adjourned; there will be an increase in individuals being released under investigation by the police, and having their police bail cancelled for the short term. Individuals who have been interviewed by the police and who are expecting postal requisitions will now face delay in receiving letters notifying them of the need to go to court. Cases which are dealt with under the Single Justice Procedure’ will also be affected. It is always to get some advice on these issues if you are affected.
The uncertainty will obviously cause some panic and distress. If you find yourself in one of these categories, do call us for some further guidance.
Please call me, David Wells, Senior Partner, Criminal Law Specialist, Wells Burcombe Solicitors on 07939026751, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org