Three weeks in and a fast-tracked set of laws are upon us all. Although the issue is a public health one, the new legislation imposes rules and restrictions on behaviour- with the scope for penalties if we do not conform.

The key legislation is the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.

Here, we present a working guide on what the Regulations mean for you.

When am I allowed to go out?

Regulation 6 states that you can leave the house with a ‘reasonable excuse.’ This covers things such as:-

  • Buying groceries and obtaining medicines;
  • For exercise;
  • To ‘meet legal obligations.’

‘Legal obligations’ includes answering bail- though there are instances of this being done via video apps. To avoid any breach of bail, you must stick to the requirements imposed upon you at the time bail was granted.

Contrary to speculation, you are not restricted to one hour per day for these activities.

The key point is the notion of a ‘reasonable excuse.’ This does not just include the examples given in the legislation, and needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

What about police interviews and court proceedings?

From a practical point of view, the following is happening:-

  • Police station interviews are still going ahead, though guidelines have been introduced as to how they are to be conducted;
  • Some hearings in the Crown Court are still taking place, usually via Skype or other video platform. Jury trials have been suspended until further notice;
  • Magistrates’ Court hearings are going ahead if they involve defendants held in custody.

What about if I buy ‘non-essential’ items?

There is no legal definition as to what a ‘non-essential’ item is under the new laws. If you’re buying chocolate alongside your milk and pasta (that’s if you can find any), there is nothing to be worried about. Not every item you buy must be ‘essential.’

What are the penalties if the laws are broken?

Breaching the Regulations ‘without reasonable excuse’ is a criminal offence (that ‘reasonable excuse again!). The following actions can be taken by the Police or by a PCSO.

A fixed penalty notice can be handed out. If this is paid within 28 days then a person will face no further action. If they fail to do so, a prosecution can follow. The amounts are specified as follows:-

  • £60 for a first instance;
  • £120 if another fixed penalty notice is issued;
  • For a third (or subsequent) notice, the amount due will be double the amount of the last notice, up to a maximum of £960;

The Regulations do not force the Police or a PCSO to hand out the notices. It is still open to them, as with any other criminal case, to simply reprimand someone. They can advise them on their behaviour and send them on their way.

This is perhaps where there is the greatest scope for disagreement. The Regulations allow for ‘reasonable force’ to be used if necessary, should a person not co-operate with attempts to move them on.

A person can also be prosecuted in the Magistrates’ Court and given a fine for a breach of the new laws, regardless of whether they were given a fixed penalty notice first.

Why are people being prosecuted for other things?

There have been headlines over the last couple of weeks concerning cases in which defendants have been prosecuted for coughing and spitting whilst alleging that they suffer from coronavirus.

This is due to the fact that such cases can be classed as Assault. Under s.39 of the Criminal Justice Act, any act by which someone causes another person to suffer, or fear, immediate unlawful violence can come under this heading.

It does not mean that actual violence has to be used- so spit, or a punch, does not have to land in order for a person to be prosecuted.

If found guilty, a person can be sentenced to up to six months’ imprisonment. If the assault is committed against an emergency worker, this can increase- up to two years, as per the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018.

In some ways, it’s business as usual- people being interviewed and brought before the courts. That’s about the only element of normality, as we adjust to the limits on our everyday lives, however long they last. If you need advice or assistance, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We’re still working and will do all we can to help.

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