The UK Government has announced an extension to the UK ‘lockdown’ and the present Coronavirus (COVID-19) regulations. Broadly speaking guidelines advise members of the public only to leave their homes for essential food, health or work reasons. Individuals must also stay 2 meters away from other members of the public at all times and engage in regular handwashing.
In order to enforce these guidelines the Government has introduced the Coronavirus Act 2020, which has resulted in important changes to the criminal law. In particular, The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations 2020 (“the Regulations”) have been introduced in response to the pressing threat to public health posed by the Coronavirus. This emergency legislation has given legal force to the guidelines on social distancing and in doing so created some of the most severe restrictions on the public’s freedom of movement since World War II.
The latest available estimate suggests that police in England & Wales have issued around 3,500 fines for breaches of the restrictions to date, with the real number likely to be far higher by now due to the recent good weather over the weekend. However, there have been some highly controversial and in some cases illegal examples of enforcement by the police and criminal courts, including one case where a woman from York was convicted of a criminal offence that doesn’t exist.
Here we look at the key aspects of the new UK Coronavirus regulations, the restrictions they impose and the enforcement measures available:
Regulations 4 & 5 – Business Premises
These regulations apply to businesses and business premises and state that during the emergency period persons responsible for any premises where food or drink is sold for consumption must not allow this to occur on its premises. Shops offering goods for sale must also close their premises, but are allowed to carry on business by making deliveries of goods to customers who place orders online, by telephone or post.
Places of worship must also be closed during this period, although they may be used for funerals, broadcasting of acts of worship and to provide essential public support.
Regulation 6 – Restrictions on Movement
This regulation puts restrictions on the movement of members of the public and public gatherings. A person may not leave their home without a ‘reasonable excuse’. This includes:
- Obtaining basic necessities
- Seeking medical assistance
- Providing care or assistance to a vulnerable person
- Blood donation
- Travelling for the purpose of work
- Voluntary or charitable activities that are not reasonably possible to undertake from home
- To attend a funeral in limited circumstances
- To fulfil a legal obligation
- To facilitate child arrangements between parents
- To enable religious leaders to attend their place of worship
- To avoid injury or illness or to escape harm.
* Interestingly, the regulations make no mention of the 30 minutes of exercise per day that has been referenced by ministers and widely reported in the media.
While the list contained within Regulation 6 is non-exhaustive, it is important that members of the public properly consider whether they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to undertake activities outside of those that are expressly mentioned within this regulation, as police and local authorities are given a range of powers to monitor and enforce compliance with the regulations.
Regulation 7 – Public Gatherings
Public gatherings are also restricted under Regulation 7. More than two people are not allowed to gather in a public place except where the members of the gathering are of the same household, the gathering is for work purposes, to attend a funeral or, where reasonably necessary, to provide care to a vulnerable person, to provide emergency assistance or to participate in legal proceedings.
Regulations 8, 9 & 10 – Police Powers
Those who breach the above restrictions without a reasonable excuse will commit a crime and open themselves to the possibility of prosecution. While breaches are to be dealt with via a Fixed Penalty Notice in the first instance it is possible for breaches of the regulations to end up in court, particularly where there are aggravating features associated with the breach or where other crimes are committed at the same time.
Anyone who obstructs, without reasonable excuse, those carrying out functions under the Regulations will also commit an offence.
Where a company commits an offence under the regulations and it can be proved that an officer of the company (i.e. Director, Secretary, Manager etc.) consented or was negligent in the commission of the offence then that officer is also liable to prosecution.
Police are given powers under the act to direct members of the public to return home or to return them to their home address. Officers are entitled to use reasonable force in order to return a person home.
Importantly, while those designated by a local authority have some powers to enforce the regulations, they only have the power to enforce them in relation to business premises under regulations 4 and 5. Powers in relation to restrictions on movement are reserved to the police.
How long will the restrictions last?
The Regulations were entered into force on 26th March 2020 and will end after 6 months. They may be terminated where the Secretary of State considers that the restrictions within the regulations are no longer necessary. There is a building scientific consensus however, that some forms of social distancing and even restrictions may be necessary for much longer than originally thought.
How Blaser Mills Law can help
The case of Marie Dinou, who was convicted in court of a non-existent offence under the Regulations, highlights how some police forces, local authorities and even the courts are struggling to get to grips with the criminal charges enacted by the Coronavirus Regulations.
At Blaser Mills Law we are already advising clients charged with offences under the Coronavirus Act and have a wealth of experience representing individuals and businesses charged with criminal and regulatory offences.
If you have a case you would like to discuss please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org