Boris Johnson may avoid criminal record if fined for Covid rule breach

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Fixed penalty notices for breaching the Government’s coronavirus regulations will not usually show up on an individual’s criminal record if they pay any fine issued within 28 days.

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There is no formal process to appeal or dispute fixed penalty notices without going to court or refusing to pay the fine.

For most people, the main way of arguing that a notice was wrongly issued is to be prosecuted in court for the offence and to mount a defence.

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However, if an individual is not successful in justifying their defence, this will result in a conviction, a criminal record and the need to pay any fine awarded by the court.

A report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights said it would seem likely that for most people, “the stress of a criminal prosecution combined with the significant life impacts of a criminal conviction” would mean they would rather receive a Covid fixed penalty notice – even an “unjustified” one – than attempt to contest it.

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Throughout the pandemic, the Crown Prosecution Service has reviewed all cases where a person decided to contest or not pay a fixed penalty notice and was prosecuted in open court. However, since June 3 2020, many cases have not reached open court and have therefore not been reviewed by the CPS.

While those who decide to pay the fixed penalty notice avoid the risk of a criminal record, they could still find it much more challenging to travel and immigrate to a number of countries around the world.

United States

Boris Johnson may find it harder to visit the Oval Office if he is fined for a coronavirus rule breach – Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

If Boris Johnson is arrested, he may find it much harder to travel to the United States.

The US Embassy in the UK does not recommend travellers who have ever been arrested to attempt to travel to America under the country’s visa waiver programme, “even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction”.

“Our advice is that if you have ever been arrested, cautioned or convicted, you apply for a visa,” the embassy says.

The UK’s Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply to US visa law and spent convictions, regardless of when they occurred, will have a bearing on a traveller’s eligibility for admission into the US.

However, an individual should still be able to travel to the US if they are issued with a Covid fixed penalty notice without being arrested. Advice from the embassy states that people with similar minor traffic offences which did not result in an arrest or conviction may travel visa free.

British citizens travelling visa-free to the United States are still required to fill out the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) form.

Having previously renounced his US citizenship, Boris Johnson would be required to answer the questions on the form, which include: “Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?”

A crime that results in serious harm to “government authority” is considered to be one involving “moral turpitude”. However, organising a party at Downing Street is unlikely to qualify as one, despite the harm to the Government’s standing, as it usually does not apply to crimes where the maximum possible prison sentence is less than 12 months.

Australia

Boris Johnson outside the Sydney Opera House when he was foreign secretary. Even if he is fined for Covid rule breaches, Australia is still likely to consider him as someone of ‘good character’ – Dan Himbrechts/Getty Images

In order to be granted a visa to travel to Australia, an individual must be deemed of “good character”.

Australia's Department of Home Affairs states that good character “generally refers to the enduring moral qualities of a person”.

While Australian government guidance states that applicants must tell the department about “any convictions you may have had in Australia or overseas”, it says that offences similar to fixed penalty notices like traffic infringements are not considered to be a conviction.

And even the existence of a criminal record does not mean that an individual will automatically be assessed as not being of good character.

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