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The Coronavirus Act 2020

The Coronavirus Bill 2020 became law on 26 March 2020. It revokes and replaces the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020.

1. The Coronavirus Bill 2020 became law on 26 March 2020. It revokes and replaces the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020.

2. We have already provided a summary of the Bill. What follows is a brief but more detailed description of the provisions of the Act which remain the same as the Bill.

3. The most relevant provisions from a policing perspective in the Act are contained within Schedule 21 – powers relating to potentially infectious persons, and Schedule 22 - powers relating to events, gathering and premises.

4. These are significant powers under Schedule 21 for constables to take a person to a place for screening and assessment, keep them there for that purpose for up to 48 hours and enforce quarantine for up to 28 days after assessment. Reasonable force may be used to enforce. Officers have a power of entry.  Failures to comply amount to an arrestable offence.

Schedule 21 – Powers Relating To Potentially Infectious Persons

5. The two principal scenarios for police involvement arise:

  • Where a public health officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is potentially infectious they may ask for a constable to help.
  • Where a constable has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is potentially infectious they also have powers.

6. Where a public health officer has reasonable grounds to suspect a person is potentially infectious or requires further screening or assessment they may request a constable to:

  • Remove a person to a place for their screening and assessment.
  • Once there, remove to another place suitable for their screening and assessment
  • Enforce the keeping of a person at a place for screening. The period for keeping a person in a place for screening is up to 48 hours.
  • Require a person to remain at a place after assessment.

Practical points to note:

  • The constable will need to be satisfied that the person making the request is a public health officer. They fall into two categories - registered public health consultants so designated and an officer of the Health Department designated under the Act.
  • A constable always retains discretion in respect of the actions they take.
  • The constable must themselves be satisfied that their actions are lawful.

7. Where constables themselves have reasonable grounds to suspect a person is potentially infectious, they may direct the person to a place for screening and assessment or remove them to such a place where it is reasonable and proportionate to do so. Where they do so, they must:

  • Tell the person of the reason for directing or removing them;
  • Tell them that it is an offence not to comply with the direction or to abscond when removed.

8. Before a constable exercises such powers, they must consult a public health officer to the extent that it is practicable to do so.

Practical points to consider:

  • It may be necessary to obtain for the benefit of officers the names and contact details of the public health officers and designated persons in the locality.

9. A constable may keep a person at a place for screening or assessment for up to 24 hours, which can be extended by a superintendent (or above) for a further 24 hours. These powers are exercisable where the officers consider it necessary and proportionate:

  • In the interests of the person;
  • For the protection of others; or
  • For the protection of public health.

10. Where a constable keeps a person at such a place, they must tell them:

  • The reason for keeping them;
  • The maximum period for which they may be kept;
  • That it is an offence to abscond.

11. Again, before a constable exercises such powers, they must consult a public health officer to the extent that it is practicable to do so.

12. Where a person has been assessed, a public health officer may require them to remain at a specified place and/or in isolation from others for up to 14 days and then extend that for a further 14 days – in other words a quarantine. A constable may enforce such a requirement by:

  • Removing the person to the directed place;
  • Keeping the person at the place;
  • If the person absconds, taking them into custody and then returning them to the place.

Practical issues to consider:

  • The Act does not specify how the constable is to keep that person in detention or isolation or what measures will be in place to enable them do so. Please also note that a person subject to these restrictions may appeal to the Magistrates Court.

13. Police constables may give ancillary reasonable instructions to any person in connection with a direction issued under the Act. Where they issue such instructions, they must tell the person of the reason for the instruction and that it is an offence not to comply. Officers may use reasonable force in carrying out any of the powers conferred by the Act and/or enter any place (including any private premises) to exercise them.

14. Where a constable exercises any power with respect to a child, a responsible adult must, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure that they comply with any such direction, instruction, requirement or restriction. A power to direct a person to go to a place can be exercised in the case of a child by requiring a person with responsibility for them to take the child to the place. The adult must also provide the constable with such information and assistance as is reasonably necessary and practicable. Where a constable exercises powers in the absence of a responsible adult, they must use reasonable endeavours to contact and inform them.

15. A person commits an offence, punishable by a fine on summary conviction not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (£1,000), where they fail to comply with a direction / instruction etc., try to abscond, knowingly provide false or misleading information or obstruct a person exercising or attempting to exercise one of the statutory powers. If a person responsible for a child fails to comply with duties imposed (compliance by the child and provision of information and assistance) they commit an offence.

Schedule 22 – Powers Relating To Events, Gatherings And Premises

16. Events or Gatherings: The Secretary of State may issue a direction imposing requirements or restrictions in relation to the holding of an event or gathering.

17. A direction will impose prohibitions, requirements or restrictions on

  • The owner or occupier of premises for an event or gathering;
  • The organiser of an event or gathering;
  • Any other person involved in holding an event or gathering.

18. A direction may impose requirements about informing persons who may be planning to attend an event or gathering of its prohibition or any requirements or restrictions imposed in relation to the holding of it.

19. Events or gatherings may be described:

  • By reference to a number of people attending the event or gathering,
  • By reference to a requirement for medical or emergency services to attend the event or gathering, or
  • In any other way.

20. A person involved in the holding of an event or gathering does not include a person whose only involvement in the event or gathering is, or would be, by attendance at the event or gathering.

21. Premises: The Secretary of State may issue a direction imposing prohibitions, requirements or restrictions in relation to the entry into, departure from, or location of persons in premises.

22. A direction may be issued in relation to:

  • Specified premises, or
  • Premises of a specified description.

23. A direction may only have the effect of imposing prohibitions, requirements or restrictions on:

  • The owner or occupier of premises to which the direction relates;
  • Any other person involved in managing entry into, or departure
    from, such premises or the location of persons in them.

24. A direction may impose requirements for the purpose of:

  • Closing the premises;
  • Restricting entry into the premises;
  • Securing restrictions in relation to the location of persons in the

25. A direction may impose prohibitions, requirements or restrictions by reference to (among other things):

  • The number of persons in the premises;
  • The size of the premises;
  • The purpose for which a person is in the premises;
  • The facilities in the premises;
  • A period of time.

26. The Act will allow the Secretary of State to confer powers on constables to take necessary steps to enforce directions issued by the Secretary of State.

27. A person commits an offence if they fail without reasonable excuse to comply with a prohibition, requirement or restriction and is liable on summary conviction to a fine.

If this update raises any issues for you, or you would like to discuss further, please liaise with your usual contact in the Weightmans Police team or speak to John Riddell at john.riddell@weightmans.com.

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