We are all still adapting to the significant restrictions on our movement which were brought in by The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 (“the Regulations”) in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic.
It is, therefore, essential that we are fully aware of what is and is not permitted by the Regulations when it comes to leaving the house. This is even more so due to the many criticisms that have been levelled at the Government’s guidance, which has appeared far more restrictive than the law it purports to explain.
The Regulations were originally introduced on 26 March 2020 and were subject to quite a significant amendment on 22 April 2020.
In its original form, Regulation 6 created a criminal offence when a person left the place where they were living without reasonable excuse. Regulation 6 included 13 examples of what might be a reasonable excuse. However, the Government Guidance, which was published on 29 March 2020 and sought to clarify the Regulations, appeared to establish a non-exhaustive list of 4 situations when you are permitted to leave the house:
- shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
- one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
- any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
- travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home
As stated above, this has been subject to much legal commentary but that is beyond the remit of this article.
Regulation 6 was amended on 22 April 2020 in order to plug an inadvertent hole in the original drafting and to widen the scope of what behaviour is unlawful. The original wording only focused on whether the person had a reasonable excuse at the point of leaving their home but the revised wording now means that it is not only an offence for a person to leave the place where they live without a reasonable excuse but also for that person to be outside of their house without a reasonable excuse.
So remember: just because you had a reasonable excuse for leaving your home, you can still be subject to a fixed penalty if stopped by the police if that excuse is no longer applicable or no longer exists.
Additional guidance has recently been provided by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing which indicates what is “likely to be reasonable” and what is not.
With shops like B&Q starting to re-open, remember that the one of the “reasonable excuses” listed in the Regulations is the purchasing of “supplies for the essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household”. The recent guidance suggests that “buying tools and supplies to repair a fence panel damaged in recent bad weather” is likely to be acceptable but “buying paint and brushes, simply to redecorate a kitchen” is not.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to issue a fixed penalty falls to the police officer at the time and their interpretation of the Regulations/Guidance. It is important to ensure, as far as possible, that you are able to identify a reasonable excuse before leaving or being outside of your home. Whilst the guidance may or may not assist you, the Regulations themselves are the law and are the basis for determining what is reasonable and legal.
A final point to note is that a National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing briefing to officers dated 28 April 2020 recommends that police encounters with members of the public should be recorded on body-worn video (where available). Comments to and behaviour towards police is, therefore, potentially recorded evidence and could undermine any subsequent challenge to a fixed penalty.
For more information on the matters raised in this article, contact a member of the Woodfines Solicitors team.