The coronavirus epidemic and the Prime Minister's address to the nation on Monday 23rd March caused us all to be placed into a form of lockdown.
It also meant that the snappily titled Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 came into legal force on 26th March. These are regulations brought into force for the purpose of enabling a number of public health measures to be taken to reduce the public health risks posed by the spread of the disease Covid – 19.
My colleague, blogged on 31st March about the police powers in respect of these regulations and how they would be used. There is a common view that the police will attempt to persuade individuals and companies alike as to their responsibility for complying with the regulations which are not straightforward.
However, police forces will take action where they deem it necessary. Earlier this week a 76-year-old gentleman who had never been in trouble before was arrested by Essex Police after he attended a local DIY store in circumstances that were deemed to be non-essential and when he refused to deal with the matter amicably.
I, myself, dealt with a defendant today at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court for contravention of the regulation imposing restrictions on movement. This is, perhaps, the most trumpeted regulation that stipulates that no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse. The term 'reasonable excuse' is then further explained and 13 separate provisions clarify what may be included in this term. My client had attended at the home address of his ex-partner in circumstances that did not provide him with a reasonable excuse even though the children of the relationship resided at that address. He was, therefore prosecuted, for the offence and dealt with by way of a financial penalty. It is common ground that the police will firstly try to resolve breaches by persuasion and then the issuing of fixed penalty notices. However, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are not afraid, in appropriate circumstances, to prosecute people through the Criminal Justice System.
Further, the courts will not shirk their responsibility to deal with such defendants and have the power to impose an unlimited fine far in excess of the fixed penalty notice level. (£60 for a first breach but reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days.)
It is highly important that everyone in the current climate stays at home and protects the NHS in order to save lives.
However, if you do come into contact with a prosecuting authority in respect of these newly generated laws then you should not hesitate to seek legal advice to help you through what is something of a minefield.
For more information
Please contact a partner in our Criminal Law team, who can guide you through the process should you need advice or representation.