Police Powers amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Government have imposed restrictions to our movement in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the NHS from buckling under the weight of too many cases at once.

In order to enforce these restrictions to protect the public and the NHS, the Police in England have been given extra powers and this short article outlines what they are, what your rights are and how to ensure that you do not fall foul of the new laws and end up with a fine or worse.

Reasonable Excuse – What the Guidance on social distancing says that you can do

Brief guidance on social distancing has been published everywhere but it does not include all of the things that you are allowed to do at the moment. In addition to going out to buy essential items, seek medical attention and to exercise, you can also offer care to a vulnerable person who does not live in your household; attend the funeral of a family member or a friend if there are no family members; donate blood; comply with shared care arrangements for children.

Importantly, you must still comply with legal obligations, including attending court unless you have been told not to do so, and comply with bail conditions. This means that you must still answer bail and comply with offender management. 

These requirements apply to adults and children alike, with parents or guardians being responsible for the actions of those under 18 years old.

New Police Powers

Under new legislation that became the law on 26 March 2020, the police can:

  1. Close premises or businesses;
  2. Restrict the movement of people and prevent gatherings

Guidance issued to the Police stresses the “policing by consent” model which means that Police officers should engage with people who they suspect are not following the guidance about social distancing and ask them to comply or find out how soon they will be able to comply. Enforcement of the guidance should be a last resort.

If Police officers believe that you are outside of the place where you are living without a reasonable excuse, they can:

  1. Direct you to return home;
  2. Give you ANY reasonable instructions that they consider to be necessary;
  3. Use reasonable force to make you return home;
  4. If you are in a group of 3 or more people who do not live with you, they can tell you to go home and then use reasonable force if you do not comply.

If you do not comply with the Police, you are committing an offence they can issue you with a Fixed Penalty Notice for COVID-19 and you will have to pay a fine.

If you are the parent or guardian of a person under 18 years old and you fail to prevent that person from going outside without reasonable excuse, you can be fined.

You can be arrested if a Police Officer considers it necessary to ascertain your name and address and to protect a child or vulnerable person from you if they think that there is a risk that you may infect the child or vulnerable person. The Police can also use their powers to arrest you in order to prevent a Breach of the Peace.

The Police also have a new power which allows them to enter premises where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that someone inside the property is potentially infectious and they need to be removed for screening and assessment. However, the entry to property must be reasonable and proportionate and the Police should act alongside the direction of a Public Health Officer where they can.

What the Police cannot do

The new legislation and the guidance on social distancing have a number of important exceptions to safeguard our rights:

  1. THE POLICE HAVE NO POWERS TO STOP YOU AND ASK YOU TO ACCOUNT FOR YOUR PRESENCE OUTSIDE but if they reasonably suspect that you are not complying with guidance on social distancing, they can engage with you and ask you to comply (and then issue fines/use force if you refuse);
  2. The offences outlined above are not recordable and they should not be entered on your record;
  3. There are no powers to fingerprint you or take your DNA;
  4. There are no powers for the Police to stop and search your vehicle to ask you why you are outside of your home but you can still be stopped under the Road Traffic Act;
  5. There are no powers for the Police to enter your premises without a warrant, with the exception mentioned above.

What you can expect to happen if you are outside without reasonable excuse

If you are outside and refuse to return home when asked to do so by a Police officer, the following should happen:

  1. The Officer will record your details on a standard form (Penalty Notice for COVID-19) and you will be cautioned;
  2. You will be issued with the Penalty Notice;
  3. The Officer should record the encounter on their Body Worn Video Camera;
  4. You will then have to pay the fine, which is reduced if you pay within 14 days,

What if home is not a safe place?

If you are outside because home is not a safe place to be, the Police are under an obligation to help you, protect you and deal with that situation. Do inform the Officer of what you are experiencing.

If you think that the Police have failed to comply with their powers

Contact our Actions v Police Department as soon as possible if you think that your rights have been violated or if Police officers have not complied with their powers. We are working from home in accordance with social distancing guidelines but we can arrange telephone consultations with you to discuss what has happened and advise you about what you can do about it.