#coronavirusuk: What powers do police have? + Coronavirus: MSPs to agree emergency laws 01 April 2020

UPDATE 01 April 20:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do

Stay at home

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
  • If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home

Do not meet others, even friends or family. You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.


#coronavirusuk: What powers do police have?

  • 31 March 2020

Related Topics Coronavirus pandemic

Police officers from North Yorkshire Police stop motorists in cars to check that their travel is "essential"Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Police have been told to be “consistent” when applying measures introduced to stop the spread of coronavirus.

It follows criticism that some forces have gone too far when trying to ensure people follow the rules.

What powers do police have?

Police have wide-ranging powers to help fight coronavirus, by enforcing social distancing measures designed to keep people apart.

The three key tools they have been given are:

  • The power to detain someone to be tested if they are believed to be infectious
  • The power to restrict your right to move around and be part of a gathering

But there is an enormous gap between what the government would like people to do and the actual limits of the law restricting movements. The restrictions came into force as a “statutory instrument”, which means it was created by ministers in each part of the UK with no debate or vote before it became law.

The rules are broadly the same across the UK, but each country has its own regulations:

Individual police officers have enormous discretion and there will be differences in what they decide. That has led to accusations that some are being overzealous.

What punishments can police enforce?

A police officer can order a non-essential business to close while coronavirus regulations are in place.

Police can also enforce the two key social distancing rules, which ban:

  • Leaving the place where you live “without reasonable excuse”
  • Being in a public gathering of more than two people

If someone refuses to follow the regulations – for instance a request to go home – officers can give them an on-the-spot fine of £60, reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days. If they keep breaking the law, more fines can be given – up to a maximum of £960.

Police could ultimately charge someone with the more serious criminal offence of breaching coronavirus regulations and a direction to follow them. This could lead to a conviction in a magistrates court and an unlimited fine.

What is a reasonable excuse to leave home?

A “reasonable excuse” which would avoid a fine includes:

  • Going shopping for “basic necessities” (food, medicine and items essential for the home)
  • Exercise, including with family members
  • Travelling to and from work, if “absolutely necessary”

Police can’t order you home if you’re out helping someone else with their care, off to the doctor, or carrying out another public service.

Most importantly, it is not a crime to leave your home to flee harm – for example, domestic abuse.

How is this different to what the government wants?

This is where the problems start.

There could be “reasonable excuses” that the government has not thought of.

And the government’s instructions to the public for preventing the spread of coronavirus go far further than the laws police have to enforce them.

Advice for coronavirus

Take exercise. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “People will only be allowed to leave their home for… one form of exercise a day”.

That sounds like a clear legal order – and the science behind it may be very clear, particularly in cities.

But his government has not made that the law in England – and the position is the same in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, in Wales, which sets its own health regulations, exercising more than once a day is now against the law.

The law is also vague if you’re self-employed.

You have a reasonable excuse to be away from home if it is not possible to work there. But a police officer could decide your work is not essential and order you home.

It has left many people confused, with Nottingham Police revealing their switchboard was jammed by callers asking for advice.

Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus'

Have police misused the powers?

Derbyshire Police have taken the most flak by following Peak District walkers with a drone.

Former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption says the force went too far, but its chief constable says the drone operation was aimed to prevent the national park being over-run, increasing the likelihood of contagion.

Last week, people were told to go to “local” beauty spots, if they want to go walking, while observing social distancing. But the law doesn’t require walking to be local – nor does it ban you from driving to the countryside to go walking.

Cheshire Police says it has summonsed someone to court for going out for a drive because they were “bored”.

But the law says nothing about going for a drive – only about going out without a “reasonable excuse”.

So is relieving the boredom of being stuck inside a reasonable excuse?

We won’t know unless that’s tested in court by someone who refuses to pay a fine – or appeals it.

What are police now being asked to do?

Officers are now being told to follow to follow the “Four Es”:

  • Engage with people – ask them why they are out
  • Explain the law and the need to be inside, stressing the risks to public health and the NHS
  • Encourage them to go home if they have no reasonable excuse
  • Enforce only as a last resort

The National Police Chiefs Council has urged people to use their common sense – by thinking about whether they should leave home. And it wants officers to exercise their discretion by focusing on the law’s aim and purpose.

Related Topics

Coronavirus: MSPs to agree emergency laws

  • 5 hours ago

Related Topics

HolyroodImage copyrightPA MEDIA
Image captionMSPs have been meeting in a near-empty chamber on increasingly infrequent occasions

MSPs are set to push through emergency powers to tackle the coronavirus crisis in a single day at Holyrood.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill sets out new rules to prevent tenants from being evicted and to keep the judicial system running during the lockdown.

Constitution Secretary Mike Russell said the “exceptional powers” would be used “exceptionally carefully”.

The legislation is sure to pass, having been drafted in consultation with opposition parties.

However, there is dispute over some points, and amendments will be debated as the bill passes through parliament on an emergency timetable.

Some proposed changes to the justice system have proved controversial, with the Scottish Criminal Bar Association (SCBA) calling them “premature, disproportionate and ill-advised”.

The bill is due to pass through the full legislative process at Holyrood in under nine hours, with the parliament only sitting for one day this week due to the pandemic.

A maximum of 79 of the 129 MSPs will be allowed in the chamber at any one time in order to maintain social distancing.

latest figures

The legislation is designed to work alongside the emergency bill passed at Westminster last week, which MSPs gave their consent to and which underpins new police powers to enforce the lockdown.

It will introduce new rules in specific devolved areas, focused mainly on housing and justice.

These include:

  • moves to protect tenants from eviction by increasing notice periods to six months
  • an overhaul of the justice system, allowing anyone to participate in court hearings by video or audio link
  • powers to have trials held before judges, without a jury
  • provision for the early release of some prisoners from jails if staff levels fall dangerously low
  • relaxed rules for local authorities, including longer deadlines for planning and licensing decisions and to respond to Freedom of Information requests

Mr Russell said that “we are in an emergency and these are emergency powers that are necessary to allow us to concentrate on the absolute priority of dealing with the pandemic”.

Sturgeon and RussellImage copyrightPA MEDIA
Image captionConstitution Secretary Mike Russell said there were “many safeguards” on the new powers

The constitution secretary added: “Some of these measures are about the continuing function of the justice system and public services to maintain public confidence and to keep our communities safe.

“For example, we cannot simply summon juries at present – that would be completely impossible. The procedure to have solemn trials without a jury is in the bill, but there are many safeguards.

“These are exceptional powers and, if they are used, they have to be used exceptionally carefully.

“We are also providing more direct help to protect private and social tenants from eviction and provide security to households facing financial hardship in the coming months.”

There is to be a strict time limit on the new powers, which will initially be in force for six months.

MSPs will have the opportunity to extend this by a further six months on two occasions, to a maximum period of 18 months overall. Ministers have also pledged to report back to Holyrood on the use of the powers every two months,

Scotland’s coronavirus deaths

===—> SEE THE GLOBAL FIGURES, ETC. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Figures correct at 12:45 on 31 March 2020

Source: Scottish government

The legislation was drawn up in consultation with opposition parties, so the bill is expected to pass through Holyrood fairly smoothly.

However there will still be debate on some points, with opposition parties tabling amendments on key issues.

The protection from evictions appears to only apply to notices issued after the legislation was put down – similar to measures in the Westminster legislation which were criticised by Labour and housing charity Shelter.

The Greens want to strengthen the ban on evictions by temporarily barring landlords from serving any eviction notices, while allowing students to get early termination of leases in private accommodation they are now not using.

CourtroomImage copyrightSCOTTISH COURT SERVICE
Image captionLord Carloway warned that a backlog of more than 1,000 trials could build up by early summer

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have put down amendments seeking to remove sections of the bill which would allow for more trials to be heard by judges without juries – a move which is not mirrored south of the border.

Ministers said this might be needed to prevent a backlog of “the most serious cases” building up, and that this would only happen subject to further parliamentary scrutiny – but the Tories said trial by jury was “an important safeguard of human rights which we would be most reluctant to see removed”.

Scottish lawyers also hit out at this proposal, with the SCBA saying it would be “at best a knee-jerk reaction to an as-yet unquantified problem, instigated by panic, and at worst something far more sinister”.

However Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, said delays to serious cases were “likely to stretch into years rather than months” if no action was taken, with a backlog of more than 1,000 trials building up even if restrictions were lifted by the start of summer.

And Victim Support Scotland backed the move “to prevent victims of serious crime waiting even longer for their cases to be heard”.

source https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-52111412

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