Policing the Pandemic

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 were subject to a further, significant amendment on 13 May 2020 following the Prime Minister’s public address on 10 May 2020. Importantly, it remains a criminal offence under the Regulations for a person to leave or be outside of their home without a reasonable excuse but the amendment has implemented the Government’s desire to expand what is permitted and relax certain aspects of the lockdown.

The main changes are that a reasonable excuse now includes:

  • collecting goods which have been ordered from a business permitted to remain open;
  • using a waste or recycling centre;
  • taking exercise alone, with members of the same household or now with one member of another household;
  • visiting a public open space alone, with members of the same household or with one member of another household for the purposes of open-air recreation to promote their physical or mental health or emotion; and
  • undertaking specified activities in connection with the purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property.

In addition to the above, outdoor sports facilities are permitted to reopen, including outdoor tennis courts and golf clubs, but users of such facilities must abide by the Regulations (i.e. exercise alone, with members of the same household or with one member of another household).

It has been reported the amendments have removed the restrictions on only being able to take 1 hour of exercise per day and in driving long distances to take exercise. Whilst this is not technically true as the Regulations didn’t, in fact, contain such restrictions and they had originated from Government guidance, the guidance has now changed and advises that people and their households “can spend more time outdoors and enjoy a wider range of activities for any length of time, subject to social distancing”. People will also able to “travel further to enjoy their time outside, with no restrictions on how far they can go to get to the countryside, National Parks and beaches”.

A final point to note in respect of the amendments is that the fines for non-compliance with the Regulations have been increased from £60 up to £100 for the first offence, with a maximum sum of up to £3,200.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing have issued a further briefing to officers in light of the changes. The four ‘E’s (1 Engage, 2 Explain, 3 Encourage, 4 Enforce) have been a feature of the police’s strategy in responding to the coronavirus pandemic from the outset and enforcement has always been stated as a last report but one must consider now the real difficulties the police face in enforcing the Regulations. This is made even more so by the fact that the Government continue to attempt to caveat the Regulations through their guidance. An example of this is the inclusion of the words “subject to social distancing” above, which as even the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing briefing states in bold: “Government guidance is not enforceable, for example two-metre distancing [in England], avoiding public transport or the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces.”

It has been reported that over 14,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued by Police forces in England and Wales for breaches of the Regulations between 27 March and 11 May 2020 in England and Wales so it will be fascinating to see what the figures will be when further data is released in due course for the period from 13 May.

In conclusion, it is worth repeating that whilst there has been an expansion of what is permitted and a relaxation of the accompanying Government guidance, leaving or being outside of your home without a reasonable excuse remains a criminal office. To that end, irrespective of any difficulties the police may face in enforcing the Regulations, it is important to stay safe and ensure you can identify and rely upon a reasonable excuse before leaving the house.

For more information please contact us

-Nathan Taylor-Allkins 

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