The Health Protection (Coronavarius) Regulations 2020 are now in force. Police have new powers to help fight coronavirus by enforcing social distancing. The main tools the police have been given are:-
- The power to detain someone for screening if they are believed to be infectious.
- The power to close a wide range of non-essential businesses.
- The power to restrict a person’s right to move around or be part of a gathering.
Regulation 6 imposes wide-ranging restrictions on freedom of movement and is the provision most likely to give rise to concern. Regulation 6(1) provides that: “During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living, without reasonable excuse.” The place where a person is living” includes the premises where they live together with any garden, yard, passage, stair, garage, outhouse or other appurtenance of such premises. It does not apply if homeless. Examples of acceptable reasons often cited are:-
- Exercise (Once per day is recommended but more than once is not unlawful other than in Wales).
- Shopping for necessities.
- Medical need.
- Work, if unable to work at home.
‘’Reasonable excuse’’, however, is not defined and if you have a reasonable excuse for leaving home, there is no violation of regulation 6. If you do not have a reasonable excuse the police have the power to impose fines. Police Officers will no doubt exercise wide discretion however they can impose a fixed penalty of £60 and further fines up to a maximum £960 for repeat offenders. For more serious breaches a summons to Court could result.
It has been reported that Cheshire Police have summonsed someone for driving because they were ‘bored’. Whilst the regulations do not reference driving, the police may ask why you are driving and if you don’t have a ‘reasonable excuse’ you may be committing an offence.
It is to be hoped that most people will exercise common sense during the current pandemic crisis and that the authorities will in turn act reasonably and proportionately. Police are being told to Engage, Explain, Encourage and Enforce only as a last resort. We need to remember the purpose of the regulations are to protect the public. They also have a sunset clause of two years, meaning they will automatically expire after that time, unless Parliament extends them. Hopefully the crisis will end well before then. In the meantime, keep safe.