27 March Update

After initial confusion yesterday, some clarification from @PoliceChiefs, rules on what you can do outdoors, and how you could be fined, summarised by BBC correspondent Dominic Casciani. Still waiting for the full guidance to police forces on all coronavirus powers, not just on social – or rather: physical – distancing.

Police have already issued fines to people breaching coronavirus lockdown rules, less than 24 hours after new laws came into force, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) confirmed to reporters – without further details yet.

Extraordinary scene at Grodzinski in Edgware sees police officer attempt to fine bakery £80 for drawing social distancing lines in chalk to help keep customers safe from coronavirus.

The Derbyshire police and other uncertainty over the rights to enforce what made the front page of The Times today, while new reports of police drones maintaining public order come in. Again in north Wales, patrolling parks and open spaces in the more rural areas of Wrexham.

Neath Port Talbot Council aired a flying surveillance camera is barking orders at ‘people not following government measures on social distancing’. @BigBrotherWatch quoted a local resident saying: “This upset a lot of people today at Neath Boots. People were waiting for prescriptions and people were very orderly and staying two metres apart’.

The lawyer David Allen Green has produced a detailed guide on his Law and Policy Blog explaining the restrictions on freedom of movement introduced under the emergency coronavirus legislation.

Dijen Basu QC and Elliot Gold have produced a similar guide on the UK Police Law Blog.

Louise Hooper of Garden Court Chambers has produced a briefing on the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020

26 March Update

Derbyshire Police sent out their drone unit to and ‘beauty spots’ in the Peak district, and tweeted footage captured at Curbar Edge the night before. The camera zoomed in to isolated people questioning why they were out there, and blaming them for walking their dog and not staying at home. The police tweeted: ‘Daily exercise should be taken locally to your home. Under government guidance all travel is limited to essential travel only.’ While many on Twitter thought that it was the police going too far, and did they not have better things to do, Derbyshire Police continued to defend their action, saying they had done it to get the message through. (The Global Times suggested, the police was inspired by the sharp-tongued drones used in China, berating people for not wearing masks.)

Adam Wagner, human rights barrister at Doughty Street, tried to figure out how this was lawful, and concluded there is a confusing difference between the government’s directions and what is in the Coronavirus law. In a long thread, detailing his concerns, Wagner says: ‘Importantly, there’s no general “essential trip” requirement for police to enforce. For a trip to be lawful a person must have “reasonable excuse” and there are a number of those including to “take exercise” – no requirement for that to be “essential”. So I see no reason why it is unlawful for people to take exercise wherever they want, including in parks and local ‘beauty spots’, as long as not gathering in groups of more than 3 not part of their household (though that isn’t very clear to be fair)’.

Meanwhile, police Humberside police creates online report portal for people not social distancing. The force says the portal has been made in response to an increase in the number of calls to its non-emergency 101 number following the government’s announcement earlier this week around new police powers to disperse groups. Northamptonshire Police said the force control room has had “dozens and dozens” of calls about people ignoring the order, including reports from people whose neighbours are gathering in their back gardens. A spokes person for the police said “We won’t have police officers crashing through garden fences to check the ID of everyone… We wouldn’t want to discourage people from making us aware, but we have to set expectations.” Adding however: “But be under no illusion, we will be using these powers if necessary.”

Devon & Cornwall Police has issued an update to parents saying “potentially, failure to adhere to… instructions could be deemed as a failure to safeguard your children… Partner agencies will be informed where we have concerns about people’s abilities to parent their children.”

25 March Update

In London, a taskforce of 500 officers questioned passengers about their journey in a bid to cut the number of people on public transport. Some commuters were told: ‘we don’t want to see you tomorrow’ as police began a series of checks at rail and tube stations in centra London and the suburbs, ITV reported. The move came as Transport for London announced a third of its workers were off sick or self-isolating. Staff shortages led to further cuts in the number of tube trains and a warning from mayor Sadiq Khan of even fewer in the days ahead.

‘Police confused over enforcement of coronavirus lockdown rules on the British public’, the Telegraph reported. Derbyshire Police launched “proactive” patrols that included cars equipped with loudhailers ordering people indoors. The force said it would not flinch from breaking up builders working too close together, failing to add that most builders are forced to continue showing up – without proper health instructions.

But other forces contacted by The Telegraph are pursuing a more “softly softly” approach, unwilling to fine people caught breaching the coronavirus lockdown.

Durham and North Yorkshire Police launched spot checks on those venturing outside, the local Darlington and Stockton Times reported, to tackle a minority of people who are ignoring stark government warnings to avoid non-essential journeys. In an unprecedented action on key routes and town and city centres, they questioned people about their reasons for not being at home, as senior officers tried to press home the importance of social distancing and isolation due to the Coronavirus crisis.

The move comes ahead of emergency legislation that is expected to give police enforcement powers to issue fines over is expected to become law the same day.

24 March Update

Police officers in Foleshill, Coventry tried to enforce the UK lockdown before their emergency powers came into force by disrupting a barbecue. Police said they tipped over the barbecue and insisted the group, which included a small child and people in their 60s, disperse.

Less than a day before, the prime minister has demanded the closure of all but essential shops, instructing police to deter people from leaving their homes. Gathering in groups larger than two is no longer allowed in order to enforce physical distancing, which is considered vital to stopping Covid-19. Parliament had yet to vote on the Coronavirus Bill, on 25th March.

Police in Crewe have stopped motorists to ask them for the purpose of their journeys as part of the lockdown across the UK in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, Sir Peter Fahy, a former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said enforcing the lockdown would be impossible if it was solely down to stretched officers and that community and social pressure was key. “They can’t really enforce it,” he said.

23 March Update

The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) calls for ‘urgent’ legislation to protect officers from the public. The Federation has called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to introduce urgent legislation to enforce social distancing to protect officers from members of the public who may be infected with the coronavirus.

Exactly what the Police Federation’s demands are unclear from this Police Professional article, but seem to include criminalising failure to physical distance and making coughing at officers an assault. Incidentally any testimony about misuse of spit hoods is one issue we’d like to hear in the coming months.