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At 8pm on 23rd March 2020 Boris Johnson addressed the public to announce an unprecedented lockdown across England (Wales and Scotland announced similar restrictions). The laws implementing the announcement (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England)
Regulations 2020) were passed on and came into force at 1 pm on 26th March 2020 but what do they really mean to you?
(The following relates to the law in England and the are some regional variations in Wales)
Who is allowed to leave their home?
There is a blanket ban on anyone leaving the home they live in without a reasonable excuse. Reasonable excuses under the law actually amounts to more than the four core reasons that the government refer to in their press conferences, but is still very restrictive. The law was changed on 22nd April 2020 so that you must have a reasonable excuse at all times you have left your home. It is therefore no longer good enough to have started with a reasonable excuse and then gone to do something on your way home. All activities whilst away from your home must count as a reasonable excuse.
What is a reasonable excuse?
The law defines what counts and as reasonable excuse. If the excuse for being out of your home is not listed you will be breaking the law. The list of reasonable excuses has been recently been extended to include graveyards and cemeteries and now consists of:
to shop for food, medical supplies, essential maintenance supplies for the upkeep and functioning of the household for people and pets or deposit or withdraw money (from a bank, building society, post office, credit union, short term loan provider or cash machine) for those who live in the same house or for vulnerable people in another house;
Am I allowed to go out in my garden or front lawn?
The law allows you to go into any garden, yard, drive, passage, stairway, garage, outhouse or similar which forms part of your property.
Can I visit my friends and relatives?
Unless you are working with your friends or relatives, they live with you, or they are vulnerable people you cannot visit them in person. You can still make contact over video call, phone, text or e-mail.
Who is a vulnerable person?
The law defines anyone over the age of 70 as a vulnerable person and also anyone under 70 years old with the following ailments as being a vulnerable person:
Can I take exercise more than once a day or for more than an hour?
The announcement from Boris Johnson expressed the exercise permitted as once per day for up to an hour. This is therefore what is being encouraged and we of course would urge people to follow the guidance that is provided.
However, the law itself does not actually restrict the number of times you can exercise out of the home per day. Nor does the law provide any time limit on how long any exercise can take.
Can I use my car to drive somewhere to take my exercise?
The law is silent on the issue of whether you can use your car to then take exercise. It is therefore open to interpretation.
One school of thought would be that using the car is not a form of exercise and as you must have a reasonable excuse at all times when out of your home using the car does not count and wouldn’t be allowed. However, the opposite argument would be that the car is being used to go somewhere more appropriate to take the exercise and therefore it forms part of the act of taking exercise in the same way as it would when driving to a shop to obtain supplies.
The police have now issued national guidance on this issue following big variations in policing of it around the country. The guidance from the police is that a vehicle can be used to go somewhere to take exercise provided you are driving for less time than you will be taking exercise – essentially that means you can drive locally to your home to exercise, but you must exercise social distancing whilst taking exercise and not overcrowd beauty spots.
How many people can be together when outside of their home?
During the lockdown you are not permitted to be in a public place in a group of more than two people unless any of the following exceptions apply:
It is worth noting that there is no definition of public place in the coronavirus laws and as such it is likely to take its usual interpretation which, whilst complicated, is essentially anywhere that the public would readily have access to whether indoors or outdoors whether or not a charge would be made for them to be there.
I am homeless, do these rules apply to me?
The rules about staying in your home do not apply to someone who is homeless, however the rules about gatherings of more than 2 people still do.
Some local authorities and hotels are arranging accommodation for the homeless at this time so you should contact local homeless charities and local authorities to see if you can get somewhere to stay. You may want to consider presenting as homeless at your local authority as this can trigger some statutory duties for the authority to house you if you fall within specific categories.
If you need any help or advice on homelessness Fieldings Porter’s Housing Team may be able to help you.
What happens if I breach the rules?
A number of offences have been introduced into law for if anyone breaches the various coronavirus rules.
Where a PCSO or a Police Officer believes that someone is outside the place where they are living in breach of the rules they have a number of options available to them.
Firstly, they may require the person to return to the place where they are living or may physically take them there and may use reasonable force (if necessary) to do so.
Any adult who is with a child they are responsible for may be asked to return the child home and ensure the child complies with instructions to stay at home.
If a PCSO or Police Officer believes a group of three or more people gathered in a public place are breaching the regulations they can direct the parties to disperse, direct any of the party to return home or take any of them home.
Each of the breaches of the rules is an offence in its own right for which a fixed penalty notice or Court Summons can be issued.
In addition a failure to comply with a PCSO or Police Officer request to go home or disperse as above is also an offence for which a fixed penalty notice or Court Summons can be issued.
A fixed penalty must contain a number of pieces of information and provide the recipient 28 days in which to pay the amount due. The first time an offence is committed the amount should be £60 and if repaid within 14 days would be £30. Subsequent offences will be double the previous one up to a maximum of £960. Failure to pay the fixed penalty within 28 days can lead to prosecution for the offence which is punishable by a fine at the magistrates’ Court.
Issuing a fixed penalty is not obligatory and a PCSO or a Police Officer may refer the matter for prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service instead.
Officers can arrest someone who they have reason to believe is breaching or is about to breach regulations and may do so on reduced necessity grounds of maintaining public health and maintaining public order.
It is also worth bearing in mind that other offences could also be committed in any altercation with the authorities over the enforcement of the regulations and action for public order offences or assault would equally be enforceable.
Can Fieldings Porter help l me if I am arrested or receive a fixed penalty or Court summons?
Should you be arrested for any reason, including breach of the lockdown rules, you should always ask for a solicitor regardless of whether you have done anything wrong or not as you can receive advice on your best options based on the situation. You should be asked if you want a solicitor and you can specify Fieldings Porter and we will be contacted. We are still able to assist you at this time, although, you should be aware that as with all things at the moment, adaptations have been made at police stations to deal with how legal advice is administered during the Coronavirus outbreak so your experience could be a little different than normal.
If you have received a fixed penalty or Court Summons for coronavirus lockdown offences and believe that you should not have received this, please contact the Fieldings Porter Criminal Team who can discuss your case and whether we can assist.
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