6 April Update

Policing
Stay Home graffiti in Swansea
Unofficial “Stay Home” message, Swansea
Eastbourne beach
Eastbourne beach, Sunday 5th April 2020
Weston-super-mare beach
Weston-super-mare beach, Sunday 5th April 2020

It is now two weeks since Boris Johnson announced Britain’s lockdown. Despite numerous and strong indications that the government’s efforts to persuade people to stay at home over an unseasonably warm weekend has been a rare policy success, Health Minister Matt Hancock still appears to be preparing the public for the possibility of further, much stricter rules on physical distancing.

Whilst much of the focus remained on people taking exercise in parks and open spaces, in Scotland the police issued a warning to the nation’s own chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, for visiting her second home in Fife during the lockdown. Calderwood, who had played a prominent role in the Scottish government’s messaging on the need to stay home, subsequently resigned from her role.

Elsewhere in Scotland, police went to the allotments at Inverleth park in the north of Edinburgh and, according to Shiela Dillon, the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme, “threatened the allotment holders (all v widely spaced!)—told them they could only work there 30 mins a day!’”

At the other end of Britain, Kent Police became the latest force to introduce an online reporting tool for so the county’s residents can denounce their neighbours for alleged breaches of lockdown measures.

In a series of tweets, he journalist Michael Segalov recounted an incident in Finsbury Park in north London where he attempted to film (from a safe distance) police officers making an arrest. He says officers became aggressive, ignored physical distancing rules and claimed he was not authorised to film them. He was also threatened with a fine.

Despite the criticism documented on this blog of officers giving confused and contradictory interpretations of the lockdown regulations, the Metropolitan Police continues to insist that everything is working well.

After a number of imprisonments for spitting at police officers, a man in Lincolnshire is the first reported prosecution for breathing in an officer’s face. He has now been jailed for three months.

So, 62 fines have imposed by four police forces (Derbyshire, North Yorkshire. West Yorkshire, Bedfordshire) in past ten days for breaches under COVID-19 emergency restrictions, according to Simon Israel of Channel 4 News. Meanwhile, Chief Superintendents Association tells HASC police absenteeism in the COVID-19 crisis is around 13% – that’s 16000 officers – in England & Wales.

Opinion

Can we trust the police to apply common sense in using their new Covid-19 powers? asks Joseph Morgan of Bindmans Solicitors.

Francis Hoar, a barrister at Field Court Chambers, argues in the Telegraph that “Police across the country are wielding powers they do not have – with vanishingly little public scrutiny” [paywall]

Coronavirus is the new terrorism,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who fears that a sweeping expansion of draconian powers could become the virus’s enduring legacy. “It’s the latest pretext for rights violations that I fear will persist long after the crisis ends.”

Infectious criminalisation: new waves of ‘coronavirus’ criminalisation and zemiology, a blog post by Avi Boulki from the Harm & Evidence Research Collaborative (HERC). If the state measured ‘harm’ rather than ‘crime’, it would not be so blind to the negative effects it has on vulnerable groups when it decides to enact wide-sweeping legislative changes that criminalise some groups and not others.

Resources

Richard Hermer QC, Phillippa Kaufamnn QC and Murray Hunt of Matrix Chambers discuss Public Emergencies and the rule of law in the context of Covid19.

Blog by Patrica Tuitt: “Like all legislative texts, the #CoronavirusAct2020 does not simply confer powers on some and impose obligations on others; it also constructs a narrative about why the society on which it operates is in need of further ordering”.

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