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Lockdown laws: What are the new rules across England?

Fines to increase to £100 for violating updated Health Protection Regulations

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 12 May 2020 18:32 BST
The key soundbites from Boris Johnson's lockdown statement

Legal changes to ensure people cannot be arrested or fined for following the government’s eased lockdown guidance in England have been unveiled amid widespread confusion.

The Health Protection Regulations still make it illegal to leave home or be outside without “reasonable excuse”, or gather in groups of more than two.

But changes coming into force at midnight add to the list of exemptions, following Boris Johnson’s announcement of a “roadmap for reopening society”.

They make it legal to take exercise or meet in a public space “with one member of another household”, but only in England.

Leaving home to “visit a public open space for the purposes of open-air recreation to promote physical or mental health or emotional wellbeing” is also an exception to the restriction.

The updated law defines open space as parks, public gardens and recreation grounds, “open country” or public rights of way in the countryside.

Previously, resting in parks or having picnics was only legal as part of a lengthy period of exercise.

But the law in England has never limited how many times people can exercise outside a day, or whether they can drive somewhere to go for a walk.

The changes also make leaving home to visit waste and recycling centres, estate agents and properties in connection with rental and sales legal.

The regulations confirm that garden centres, outdoor playgrounds and sports courts can now open.

“Regulation 6 has been amended to extend the list of reasonable excuses for which express provision is made, including permitting people to leave their homes to visit public open spaces for open-air recreation with members of their households, and to permit people to exercise or engage in open-air recreation with one member of another household,” a government spokesperson said.

Related video: They key parts of Boris Johnson's speech (AFP/Getty)

However, the updated law has also increased the default fine for breaking the regulations from £60 to £100.

The penalty will be halved to £50 if paid within two weeks, and doubled for repeat offences to a maximum of £3,200, compared to the previous ceiling of £960.

Police in England and Wales have so far issued more than 9,000 fines under the Health Protection Regulations.

Members of the public must risk prosecution in order to challenge a penalty if they believe it has been issued wrongly, by not paying it and going to court.

Officers were instructed to use fines and arrests as a “last resort” after encouraging people to comply voluntarily, but there have been several incidents of police overstepping their powers.

A report released by parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights last month said people were being punished “without any legal basis” and the Home Affairs Committee voiced “concern that police were enforcing government advice rather than the letter of the law”.

The Liberty human rights group said the updated regulations had not received proper parliamentary scrutiny and were initially “rushed through”.

Advocacy director Clare Collier said the speed of implementation “resulted in heavy-handed policing at a time of severe anxiety for all of us”.

“Instead of narrowing those sweeping powers, the government is ramping up fines for falling foul of the lockdown,“ she added. "Doing so while its own unclear communications cause confusion over what is and isn’t allowed is a recipe for injustice.“

She added: ”The powers must be rolled back, and far greater clarity provided to enable all of us to understand what we can and can’t do."

Some police may have gone too far in enforcing lockdown, senior Tory admits

Following the prime minister’s announcement on Sunday, police accused the government of making it “almost impossible” to enforce restrictions with mixed messages over easing the lockdown.

John Apter, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the situation had been worsened by differences between the rules in England, Wales and Scotland.

Policing this crisis has been tough, a lack of clarity and mixed messages has made that even harder,” he added.

“If we fail to get clear and unambiguous guidance policing this crisis will become almost impossible.”

The government was forced to issue a swift correction when Dominic Raab advised the public to break the law on Monday morning.

It came after restrictions were widely disregarded over the bank holiday weekend, when hot and sunny weather saw people eating and drinking with friends in parks.

Some celebrations held to mark the VE day anniversary also sparked concern, as people appeared to be violating social distancing rules.

Mr Apter called for “crystal clear guidance, not loose rules that are left open to interpretation.”

New guidance will be released by the College of Policing on how officers should interpret and apply the changes.

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