One of the criticisms of the police over the last six weeks of the lockdown has been that, instead of implementing the law, they have interpreted public health regulations in the way they thought the government wanted them to. This often involved more apparent concern for public order rather than public health, resulting in arbitrary and disproportionate use of police powers.
Sunday’s announced “easing” of the regulations and the subsequent warnings that the new rules could make the policing the lockdown impossible, suggest that senior officers are no longer sure want the government wants, although the Telegraph reported that they have been told by the Home Office they will only be expected to intervene in large gatherings.
Elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) have also been responding to the government’s amended strategy. In Wales, one has described the changes as “a total shambles”, while in Northumbria, the PCC has said that officers will struggle to enforce rules in a “halfway house between lockdown and freedom”.
The Welsh government has warned people are not allowed to drive from England into Wales for exercise as the two countries move to different lockdown rules.
In Cumbria, a force that up to the end of April had issued 107 fines, a further 100 more fixed penalty notices were handed out during the VE Day bank holiday weekend alone. Interesting for the first time a senior police officer, ACC Andrew Slattery, specifically blamed newspaper headlines for “giving the impression lockdown was over”.
The latest amendments to the Coronavirus Regulations say that reasonable excuses for going to open spaces now include for “emotional wellbeing”. This is an entirely reasonable excuse: the government has promoted daily exercise as necessary for health and there are proven mental health benefits of physical activity, but as the barrister David Allen Green has pointed out, this definitely is practically impossible to police. Richard Horton, the Orwell Prize-winning police blogger Nightjack, agreed, tweeting “there is no cop, popular stereotype or otherwise, that could police this rapidly agglomerating cluster of afterthoughts…” Which raises the question: why are they trying to, unless there is a clear public health or disease control benefit?
Dyfed-Powys Police reportedly issued 219 fines for coronavirus lockdown breaches over the bank holiday weekend.
The Guardian reported that a homeless man has been charged with ‘leaving the place you were living, namely no fixed address’ during lockdown; and that the judge has questioned the decision but the CPS are determined it will go to trial. Regulation 6(4) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 say the requirement that no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse ” does not apply to any person who is homeless”.
On Monday, the Office for National Statistics published new data that seems to indicate that, rather than those who are stuck at home and venturing out once a day for exercise (the focus of the police’s attention in implementing public health regulations), it has been people who are forced to continue low paid work during the current lockdown who have had the high rates of death involving the coronavirus, including security guards, taxi drivers, workers in construction and in jobs such as hospital porters, kitchen and catering assistants. In spite of widespread reporting – and subsequent lengthy prison sentences – for assaults on police officers involving deliberate spitting and coughing, such as this one, it is unclear from these statistics whether the police are also a higher risk or not.
Even before the pandemic, Britain was the only country that had integrated counter-radicalisation activities into healthcare, PreventWatch pointed out. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the government has chosen a senior Home Office counter-terrorism official, Tom Hurd, to coordinate newly established joint biosecurity centre and its new Covid Alert System, as announced by Boris Johnson on Sunday. The centre is planned to closely model the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, Britain’s anti-terrorism national security system. Speaking at the launch of the Independent Sage report last week, Prof Allyson Pollock from Newcastle University said she believed the security emphasis was misguided. “Even the term biosecurity is really worrying,” she said. “We should be thinking about surveillance for epidemics and disease control.”
Are Covid-19 contact apps data safe? – Ramsey Faragher, Naked Scientists blog
Draft Covid-19 contact tracing legislation proposes formal oversight, Computer Weekly
Lockdown fines explained: how much you could be charged for breaking lockdown rules as police introduce tougher enforcement.
The lockdown regulations were finally debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday, just as the second tranche of amendments was published.