During this national emergency there is a lot of confusion surrounding the reasons we can leave our houses and the potential consequences of breaking the new rules. Here we clarify what guidance police forces should be following when deciding whether to issue a penalty.
Police forces around the country have been granted new powers under The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 and they have been applying these powers by giving warnings, on-the-spot fines and making arrests. These penalties have been handed down for a variety of reasons, including to large gatherings that refuse to disperse, making unnecessary trips and in the most serious cases, coughing directly into police officers’ faces.
ITV News reported on 15 April that police forces in England alone had issued more than 3,000 £60 fines over the previous two weeks of lockdown. Whether all of these were fines were given in accordance with the law remains to be seen. On the other end of the scale, a man who claimed that he had coronavirus and proceeded to cough on a police officer was handed a prison sentence of 6 months.
There has been disparity across the country on how the police have been applying these new rules. For example, Northamptonshire Police suggested it would introduce checks on shopping trolleys to ensure shoppers were only buying essential goods, prompting a response from Downing Street discrediting this proposal and stating that people could buy what they wished. A further example of misinterpreting the new law occurred in South Yorkshire when police informed a family that they could not spend time in their own front garden.
The actual test contained within The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 is one of ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave the house.
In view of the misapplication of the law by some police forces, the College of Policing and the National Police Chief’s Council have published further guidance on what is and what is not a reasonable excuse to leave the house. There is guidance on a number of areas, including shopping, exercise, work and other reasons.
The guidance on shopping clarifies that members of the public are allowed to leave the house to go to the shops to buy anything that is on offer there, whether it be deemed as essential (bread, milk etc), or non-essential (luxuries such as chocolate and alcohol). Though multiple trips to the supermarket are clearly discouraged. It further deems that buying paints and brushes simply to redecorate is not a reasonable excuse and will be treated as such.
With regard to exercise, residents are permitted to drive to a location and exercise, provided that the period of exercise far exceeds the period of driving. It is also permitted to take breaks to rest or eat whilst exercising. There is also guidance stating that it is permitted to exercise more than once per day, provided it can be considered as reasonable.
The advice on work states that leaving home is reasonable for anyone (not just key workers), where it is not possible to work remotely. The police should not be asking for ID or any form of ‘Key Worker’ letter if you are travelling to work. It is not acceptable to choose to work in a local park if you are able to work from home, or to travel door-to-door offering to do paid work.
The guidance also details other acceptable reasons to leave the house, including taking a pet to the vet, moving house and visiting a loved one in hospital. Perhaps most surprising of all, it states that you are allowed to move to a friend’s house for a period of several days to ‘cool off’ following arguments at home. However, the period of this stay must be measured in days not hours.
This guidance is non-exhaustive and, as always, police will assess each case individually and based on its own merits.
There are serious consequences to flaunting the new lockdown rules. If you or a family member has been affected, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time for confidential, expert advice.