Over the weekend, there were the now-familiar stories about senior police officers urging people to stay home and as many reported incidents of atrocious driving on Britain’s roads as there were about fines for lockdown infringements.
In Widnes in Cheshire, police using closure order powers at a home where there had been repeated warnings about breaches of lockdown regulations and anti-social behaviour. This makes it a criminal offence for anyone other than the tenant to visit the property for up to three months. This power was not created by new coronavirus legislation, but under section 43 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
In Liverpool, mayor Joe Anderson described sunbathers in parks as “an insult to those who have lost their lives and to the brave, hard-working NHS staff who are under immense pressure.” However, as the Huffington Post has noted, “The headlines would have you believe Britain is a nation of rule-flouting “Covidiots”. But the UK’s compliance with lockdown measures has been predominantly positive, with concern about the virus at the forefront of most people’s minds in the weeks since it began”.
Legal blogger David Allen Green has highlighted that “the significant extension of the coronavirus regulations this week was not covered by mainstream media”. As covered here last week, current guidelines have been extended to read, “during the emergency period, no person may leave or be outside of the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.”
The changes were slipped out quietly and so few noticed that the list of “reasonable excuses” for leaving your home had not been amended, meaning that whilst travelling to work is a reasonable excuse, remaining there once you have arrived is not. It means as Green remarked, that “the world-class lawyers at the Home Office have managed – under the guise of “clarification” – to make it necessary to imply things into the law. The very opposite of “clarification”.
It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that police union representatives have accused the government of giving out mixed messages to the public over the coronavirus lockdown and called for “clear and unambiguous laws, guidance and communication” from ministers around what people “can and can’t do”.
Meanwhile, however, officers have continued to use their powers in ways that seem completely arbitrary, including hassling a physically distancing busker – who was technically at work – in a street in Manchester. In Dorset, the local force continues its own unique interpretation of lockdown laws and regulations.
In London, police were caught on camera unlawfully arresting someone for refusing to give their personal details.
Elsewhere, there have been two outcomes of the ‘reporting breaches of lockdown culture’ that the police were so eager to promote in the early days of the implementation of restrictions. Firstly, they are warning rural vigilantes not to take the law into their own hands over reports of angry residents blocking roads and confronting cyclists. Meanwhile, in Scotland, police in East Lothian have actively urged locals to stop reporting breaches of lockdown restrictions.
In the north of Ireland, for 48 hours up until Saturday morning, any PSNI officer intending to issue a fine for any breach of coronavirus restrictions was required to first seek approval of a senior officer, in order to review how this power has been used. It is unclear, as yet, what conclusions have been drawn from this review.
Coronavirus is causing the “creeping” expansion of intrusive surveillance techniques, campaigners have warned.
#DemocracyInLockdown, Are civil liberties being curtailed by new policing powers? Are different communities being treated equally? A new podcast weekly series from Unlock Democracy