The new range of restrictive powers on our movements has been, at best, confusing. Different police forces have interpreted them differently. Some have indicated that they are not following the guidelines set out by the National Police Chiefs’ Council. Others have been deleting tweets containing former action they’ve taken against citizens.
But a barrister, Stephen Knight, from One Pump Court is ensuring that people in England know their rights by producing the Covid-19 Legal Mythbuster.
Stay at home
The article points out that:
People should stay at home and listen to genuine health advice.
It says the document sets out “the legal position in relation to what you can and cannot legally do”. But it also emphasises that:
just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And just because you shouldn’t, that doesn’t mean the state can necessarily legally stop you.
Furthermore, it states that while physical distance measures are essential:
Agents of the state have applied those powers expansively, and often more expansively than the law allows. Recent cases have included people being convicted for crimes that they could not have been guilty of, or for crimes that do not even exist.
One Pump Court “provides access to justice for the vulnerable and disadvantaged and fights poverty, abuse, neglect and discrimination”. It says it does this because:
Society is not equal. We use the law to level the field. Using fearless advocacy and professionalism
Its new guide goes through 18 myths about coronavirus (Covid-19) law and sets out what the law is on each of them. For example, it looks at whether it’s a crime to leave your house more than once a day, stating:
The Coronavirus Restrictions Regulations make it a crime to leave or be outside the place where you live without reasonable excuse. There is no limit to the number of times you can leave your home each day, as long as you have a reasonable excuse on each occasion.
It also links to the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing document on advice on what “constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave the place where you live”.
But the law is changing at speed. For example, on 22 April, the legislation was updated to state:
During the emergency period, no person may leave or be outside of the place where they are living without reasonable excuse…
As Rachel Jones from Blackstone Chambers notes:
The Amending Regulations have created a new offence: being outside one’s home without a reasonable excuse may break the law, even if you had a perfectly good reason to go out in the first place.
Know your rights
No-one should be looking to find loopholes to circumvent the lockdown. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to know your rights – especially when police abuses of these powers are happening across the country, as the Network for Police Monitoring and the Undercover Research Group are documenting.
In particular, it’s important to note that:
During the COVID-19 pandemic you are not required to provide your name or address to the police in any circumstances where you normally would not have to. The police have no general power to force you to give your name and address.
In fact, there are no new police powers regarding handing over personal information. The only time this is required is if you’re “driving or if they have reason to believe that you have engaged in anti-social behaviour in a public place (which means causing people harassment, alarm, or distress)”. Additionally, if the police want to issue a fixed penalty notice then refusing to give your name and address could lead to arrest.
Many of us never believed we’d live through a time where the state can impose such huge restrictions on our lives that, on the whole, we support. After all, there is no other choice if we want to stop the spread of coronavirus and protect ourselves, our loved ones and strangers we’ve never met.
But accepting that premise is based on consent and science. It’s not based on state powers. It’s not based on accepting an authoritarian state where, because we’re living through unprecedented times, we suddenly have to accept everything the police tell us.
So this guide should be essential reading for everyone. Not to break the rules. Not to circumvent lockdown. But to know your rights and to ensure the police are accountable for what they are doing on our streets.
Featured image via Wikimedia/scientific animations and Emily Apple
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