Burton Copeland explains the new Coronavirus laws and how they can land you in trouble with the law whilst out driving, along with the shocking news about funerals.
The world has certainly changed in the past few weeks. Even at Christmas the Coronavirus was spreading through China, but as we tucked into our turkey dinner with family and loved ones, none of us could have predicted that within 3 months we would be on lockdown.
The speed with which this situation has developed has moved with considerable pace. Less than 2 weeks ago, we were advised we should work from home if we could. Then on Monday of this week, Boris Johnson announced a total lockdown was in effect. Now we can only leave our homes for specific reasons. The laws that the Prime Minister talked about were published yesterday and came into force immediately.
But what are they? How do they affect us? And how might we get into trouble with the law?
What are the new laws on restrictions of movement?
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 is the UK statutory instrument 350 of 2020. It has created several restrictions both on individuals (commonly referred to as “social distancing”) and on certain businesses.
Breaching these restrictions is a criminal offence for which you could face prosecution. However, in the first instance you’ll usually be offered a fixed penalty, which if paid, discharges any liability to prosecution.
Here I will concentrate on the offences related to individual movements, particularly when out driving. Most of us will have seen or read about Boris’ address to the nation, in which he spoke about “one form of exercise per day” and “basic necessities such as food and medicine.” However, the restrictions actually go a little further than we might have imagined. For example, did you know that if a close friend of yours dies in the next couple of weeks, you wouldn’t be able to attend the funeral? Quite shocking isn’t it?
The restrictions say that we should all stay at home, or as defined by the act; “the place where a person is living, which includes the premises where they live together with any garden, yard, passage, stair, garage, outhouse or other appurtenance of such premises.”
We may all only leave the house in order to:
- Obtain basic necessities such as food or medicine, for ourselves or those who are vulnerable.
- Take exercise either alone or with other members of the household.
- Seek medical assistance or provide care or assistance.
- Donate blood.
- Fulfil a legal obligation such as attending court.
- Access a critical public service such as social services.
- Move house, but only when reasonably necessary.
- Allow contact between children and parents who are separated.
Regulation 7 of the regulation also forbids gatherings in public of more than two persons.
Are there any classes of people the regulations do not apply to?
As we know from media reports in the last few days, the restrictions of course applied to the Scottish Chief Medical Officer, who was forced to resign after she took her family to a holiday home. However, there is one group of individuals for whom the regulations do not apply, which is the homeless.
Given that the regulations refer to “no person leaving the premises where they are living”. It is obvious that they cannot apply to somebody who does not have anywhere to live. Even though it might be obvious it is specifically referred to in regulation 6(4), which says that they do “not apply to any person who is homeless”.
Despite this, it is clear that the police are not always up to date in this regard. As demonstrated this week when our Rob Moussalli represented a client when a charge of breaching coronavirus lockdown law against a drunk man was withdrawn. This happened as a result of Rob pointing out regulation 6 (4) to the court and the Lawyer from the Crown Prosecution Service. After which the offence was duly withdrawn.
What measures will police take to prosecute?
It was reported last week that police forces would take drastic measures to ensure lockdown, such as drones and roadblocks. Drones will inevitably capture images of individuals who are flouting the new measures. Given the recent use of technology and social media by law enforcement agencies, it may be that they are used to identify and fine individuals.
We believe that one of the main ways that fines will be issued will be for those who are stopped by police whilst on car journeys. In the first weekend of the restrictions it was reported that many tourist spots saw their busiest times. Large numbers of people descended upon them, taking the opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy the sunshine.
Last weekend seemed to have been quieter, but now that we have some mild temperatures and sunny weather forecast for the Easter weekend, we expect it will be very different and the police will be out in force.
Within days of the announcement, Devon and Cornwall police were already out in force, putting up roadblocks to stop drivers. Officers from Plymouth D Section Response Team even tweeted pictures of their roadblock:
Do I have to tell the police where I’m going if I’m stopped at a roadblock?
Some may think that it’s fine to go out in the car and visit a beach or beauty spot, as this can amount to their allowance to take exercise. Others may think that they can simply tell police officers, when stopped, that they are on the way to the shops or the chemist.
However, you should be aware that police officers do have the power to stop and question you, and they are not stupid. Of course, you don’t have to answer any questions about where you are going, but if you don’t, you are likely to receive a fixed penalty fine.
You will have to tell them your name and address if required, as you could face arrest if you don’t. If the roadblock is close to your home and you are on your way to the shops to buy essentials, then I’m sure you’ll be fine.
If, however, you are some distance from your home or the supermarket, or your family has loaded into the car with buckets, spades and a picnic basket, explaining you’re off to buy essentials simply won’t wash, and you’ll likely be hit with a fine.
What are the penalties for driving during lockdown?
The penalties for breaching a restriction on movement are limited at present to fines. For the first offence it will be for £60 (reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days). This will double for each further offence committed. Meaning the second will be £120 and the third £240 etc.
Who can issue fixed penalty notices?
Issuing fixed penalties isn’t just limited to police officers, as they can also be issued by police community support officers or “a person designated by the secretary of State.” This could include other groups of individuals such as traffic wardens.
Last week I heard from a friend that a colleague had posted what may be his last message on social media, just before he was placed onto a ventilator as coronavirus had entered his lungs. This week the Prime Minister has been admitted to ICU. It all brings the message home that this can affect anyone. It is serious and very real.
There really is no need to visit a beach unless of course you are lucky enough to have one within walking distance. The regulations allow you to go out of the house to take exercise, so go for a walk or a bike ride but avoid crowded areas or stay at home and do some gardening. Use the car for shopping if you have to, but don’t use it unnecessarily. The last thing the NHS needs to deal with right now are more casualties from road traffic collisions.
Stay at home, save the NHS and save lives.