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Former Attorney General Says It's "Dystopian" MPs Can't Vote On 10-Year Jail Term For Avoiding Quarantine

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve has hit out at 'absurd' plans to introduce 10-year prison sentences for lying on passenger locator forms (PA)

3 min read

Dominic Grieve has hit out at “absurd” plans to use 40-year-old forgery laws to threaten people with 10 years in prison for lying on a form when they arrive in the UK.

Yesterday health secretary Matt Hancock revealed as part of new plans to strengthen the borders against new strains of coronavirus Brits returning from 33 “red list” countries must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.

But he warned if people lie about having been in one of those nations when they fill out their passenger locator form, they could face a maximum jail term of 10 years.

Downing Street has today confirmed the legislation to derive such a sentence from is the 1981 Forgery and Counterfeiting Act and that “there is no requirement for a vote by MPs” because it is an existing law. 

But the former Tory MP and QC Dominic Grieve has strongly criticised this idea, saying denying Parliament a say and leaving it to existing law would be “dystopian”. 

Grieve, who was Attorney General between 2010 and 2014, told PoliticsHome: “This is why all these other regulations and regulatory offences during the pandemic have been created, because you're not going to go into a forgery act to prosecute people.

“It’s taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

He said there are a large number of other offences which require somebody to make a false declaration, such as benefit fraud, and could technically be prosecuted by the 1981 Forgery Act but in practice is never used as they are not deemed worthy of such serious punishment.

“I don't quite understand what the government's doing here – are they saying we are introducing a regulation, which means that you are going to be under a legal obligation to fill in a form?” Grieve added.“One: what is the penalty if you refuse to do it? Ok, maybe you won't let you into the UK. Second: if you fill it in incorrectly is there going to be no penalty prescribed but you risk being prosecuted under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981? 

“Or are they going to specify 10 years for failing to fill in this particular form correctly? If that is what they are doing then I think it's unprecedented.

“And to do it by means of secondary legislation to create a new offence, threatening to fill in this particular form, penalty 10 years, it's astonishing.”

The Home Office directed queries about which legislation will be used to prosecute those who lie on their passenger locator form to the Department for Health and Social Care, who are yet to confirm details of the policy, which come into force from Monday.

But in a briefing this lunchtime, Number 10 confirmed there are no plans to make it a separate offence or for it to form part of a Statutory Instrument and tabled before Parliament as secondary legislation.But Grieve is urging the government to rethink. 

“Clearly the government has taken very substantial powers to create regulations by decree, and some of those regulations don't have to even have an affirmative resolution of the House of Commons," he continued. 

“But on the other hand, I think that the creation of a criminal offence punishable by 10 years imprisonment, would I think require an affirmative resolution of the House of Commons at the very least. 

"I jolly well hope it does because otherwise we're living in a dystopian world of very considerable proportions.”

He added: “So on that basis, I had assumed that this was going to come to the House of Commons, but maybe in fact they're just going to enact these regulations, and [Hancock’s] comments about 10 years were just a vague and completely ridiculous statement.” 

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