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Heavy handed and unlawful police behaviour threatens success of COVID-19 / Coronavirus lockdown

New legislation in response to the Coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic has been rushed through Parliament with little scrutiny. It is plain that the Government were, necessarily, working to tight timescales, but the consequences for civil liberties so far look alarming.

The key provision in The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations is as follows: “During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse”. The Regulations do not give an exhaustive list of what is to be considered a reasonable excuse, but it does include the examples of exercise, seeking medical assistance, and so on. In fact, the list within the regulations is more detailed than that given in most Government guidance (i.e. for food, health reasons, or work if you cannot work from home), and includes to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, to provide emergency assistance, or to provide voluntary or charitable services.

The restrictions and enforcement provisions of the Regulations are unclear and have led to criticism of the police’s response to the crisis.

Police have reported summonses being issued for the ‘offence’ of people buying things they do not consider essential. It seems that some police forces or officers are interpreting the Regulations to give them powers to decide whether your shopping trip is essential, but to interpret the Regulations in this way is unreasonable. They cannot search your shopping bag to ascertain whether the items within it are ‘essential’ and in any case, it is unclear what criteria would need to be met. Despite this, there have been reports of charges being pursued.

Several stories are coming to light of the police demanding explanations from the public as to their reasons for not being in their homes, which is overzealous and intrusive if the police have no reason to suspect that these members of the public are breaching lockdown conditions. Regardless of any new legislation ushered in by this crisis, the police still cannot arrest you without lawful reason, and in most circumstances they will need to have reasonable suspicion that you have committed or are about to commit an offence. Gracie Bradley, policy and campaigns manager at Liberty, is quoted as saying, “There have been amazing community responses to this pandemic, and people have shown they are willing to change the way they live – but that goodwill, and the broader aim of protecting public health, will be undermined by harsh and heavy-handed policing.”

It is only correct that we all stay at home at this time and co-operate with the Government to protect our own health and the lives of the most vulnerable in society. Nevertheless, this can only be on the table if the Government and their enforcers abide by their own laws and act in a reasonable and proportionate manner.

If the police have arrested you under the new COVID-19 and Coronavirus legislation and you feel this was unlawful, contact our litigation solicitors on 0207 632 4300 or via our website at www.saunders.co.uk to explore the legal remedies that may be available to you.

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