16 – 23 September Update

There was another avalanche of changes in the coronavirus regulations over the last week, in advance of predictions of the second wave of infections and the next lockdown looming. While we will point at good summaries here, our concern is – as ever – the enforcement by the police.

There remains a complete lack of lessons learned from the earlier lockdown and the government is still approaching the pandemic as a public order issue, rather than a health crisis. This – again – means threats, fines and a push to for the public to snitch on each other, rather than a focus on solidarity, community support and a serious effort to solve access to health care.

Unfortunately, this also means there is a need to continue this blog, to log abuse by the police and misunderstandings of the regulation.

Coercion failed before, it was rightly seen as arbitrary, unfair and in many cases unlawful, but Boris Johnson now says the military could help to enforce the new corona rules.

LEGAL

Since Monday, new rules apply: see What are the new coronavirus restrictions? – an explainer from the BBC that includes the rules for pubs and restaurants.

Any social gathering of more than six people in England is against the law, with people facing fines of up to £3,200 if they do not abide by the new measure, which applies to both indoor and outdoor settings.

On Wednesday, the English face-covering regulations changed again. From Thursday, 24th September, shopworkers and other staff who come into contact with the public are now required to wear a covering. All penalties are doubled to £200. The updated Wikipedia page includes the exemptions.

Parliament is due to the consider the renewal of coronavirus legislation but a cross-party group of MPs has threatened to block powers of detainment. Big Brother Watch has launched a campaign calling for people to lobby their MPs for a repeal of these powers under Schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report on the human rights implications of COVID19 measures on 21 September. The report is the most comprehensive account to date of the human rights issues which have occurred over the lockdown. Its conclusions cover the ambiguity and mixed messaging of government communications; the discrepancy between guidance and regulations; the lack of clarity from ministers; the lack of public understanding; policing and prosecution issues; fixed penalty notices and the egregious lack of an appeal process; the use of emergency powers and the detrimental impact on the right to protest.

With regard to the key focus of this blog, the report says on policing:

“… it is imperative that Government provide sufficient warning of changes to the law, and coordinate with appropriate bodies, so that police forces and bodies such as the NPCC [National Police Chiefs Council] and CoP [College of Policing] have time to understand and explain those changes.”

On fixed penalty notices, it says:

“There is currently no realistic way for people to challenge FPNs which can now result in fines of over £10,000 in some cases. This will invariably lead to injustice as members of the public who have been unfairly targeted with an FPN have no means of redress and police will know that their actions are unlikely to be scrutinised. The Government should introduce a means of challenging FPNs by way of administrative review or appeal.”

See summary in an extensive thread by barrister Adam Wagner (who worked on the report) including the recommendations.

POLICING

As Netpol noted, we have moved from mutual aid to mutual mistrust: six months of relying on coercion to control the spread of coronavirus has led to police apparently inundated with calls from members of the public reporting their neighbours for “rule of six” breaches.

With over 500 reports of people reporting on their neighbours for allegedly breaking #Covid_19 rules in the West Midlands in one week, the local Police & Crime Commissioner wants more powers to allow officers to enter people’s homes if they suspect there is a breach.

From 28 September, people failing to self-isolate if testing positive for the coronavirus or if contacted by the test and trace system will face fines starting at £1000. Again, police will target “offenders in high-incidence areas” based on neighbours snitching on each other.

Greater Manchester Police received intelligence regarding a wedding party in Wythenshawe. Police attended and found that a gazebo had been erected in the garden of a property. Officers prevented the illegal gathering before restrictions were breached.

COMMENT

Under cover of coronavirus, the Tory government is bulldozing basic liberties. John Harris in The Guardian. The Tories have been increasing police powers, bringing in new laws by diktat and sowing mistrust. When will the left speak up?

Renewing emergency Covid powers threatens ‘rights and freedoms’, Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey tell Boris Johnson, The Independent.

Parliament surrendered role over Covid emergency laws, says Lady Hale, The Guardian.

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