The government introduced ‘emergency legislation’ containing powers relating to both the Coronavirus Act 2020 and The Health Protection Regulations 2020.
The Coronavirus Act mainly relates to potentially infectious persons who refuse to co-operate with the police or public health officers, when they are required to be screened for Covid-19.
Schedule 22 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 details powers to issue directions relating to events, gatherings and premises which can be found at gov.co.uk.
What Do These Regulations Mean?
The Regulations are in place to ensure a legal test is met, whether someone has a ‘reasonable excuse’ for being outside their home, including exercising, going to work or caring for a vulnerable person. Regulation 7 applies in particular to gatherings and a person mixing with a large group from outside their family household.
It has been reported at the time of this article that the United Kingdom has hit a staggering 4 million cases with 116,000 deaths recorded. The National Police Chief’s Council has described that approximately 200 fixed penalty notices have been issued for large gatherings, which can result in a £10,000 fine.
In the current climate, most indoor spaces beside residential homes are currently closed. If a business is to continue operating whereby there are Covid Guidelines in place that must be adhered to such as: –
- There is a limit on people for indoor gatherings in one place in some circumstances with a 2 metres rule between people. (Or 1 metre with risk mitigation being acceptable)
- The size and circumstance of the premises will determine the maximum people that can be accommodated whilst also facilitating social distancing.
- Owners, proprietors or managers are advised to take out their own risk assessment plans to determine the number of factors that may avoid any breaches of the Covid guidelines.
There will have to be careful consideration given to the following:
- Making use of multiple exit and entrance points
- Managing the arrival and departure times
- Queue management
- Hygiene and face coverings
- Vulnerable people (70 or over)
- Toilet facilities
- Track and Trace (Pre Entry)
- Travel and Parking
On 28th September 2020, the maximum penalty available under government regulations increased to £10,000. Organisers of an event exceeding 30 people could be in breach of The Health Protection Regulations 2020. You can find more guidance on the full legal guidance by clicking here.
A few examples detailed below outline illegal events in clear breach of Covid regulations, which include but are not limited to:
On New Year’s Eve, an organiser of an illegal 500-year-old church rave in Essex was fined the maximum fine available following on from admissions made to the offence. It is said that hundreds of partygoers attended the rave at the ‘All Saints’ Church in East Horndon, Essex after the church was broken into. A portable bar and toilets were hired out for the event. Equipment including DJ decks was wired up to the church’s fuse box.
On 21st January 2021, a wedding took place in Hackney. The organiser for the event is now being considered for a £10,000 fine following on from hundreds of people found gathering in Egerton Road, Stamford Hill. Police who attended report findings of around 400 people in the venue, and many who had left as police arrived. The building windows had been covered up to prevent anyone from seeing inside.
The main businesses that have been impacted are hospitality and leisure amongst many others. It is for each company to assess whether they are a business required to close having consideration to the guidelines and regulations. Local authorities have the power to impose restrictions under the Health Protections Regulations 2020, you can find this guidance on the government website.
If an owner, proprietor or manager carrying out a business (or a person responsible for other premises) fails to fulfil the obligations placed on them in law without ‘reasonable excuse’ they commit an offence. In England, Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers will monitor compliance with the regulations, with support by police where applicable. Businesses and venues in breach of restrictions will potentially be subject to a:
- Fixed Penalty Notice starting at £1,000 for the first offence and rising to £10,000 upon repeat offences
- Coronavirus Improvement Notice (which will require a minimum of 48 hours for a business to introduce necessary measures)
- Coronavirus Immediate Restriction Notice (which will impose the immediate closure or restriction of activity within premises for a 48 hour period where rapid action is needed)
- Coronavirus Restriction Notice and Prohibition Notice (which will require the closure or restriction of activity for a 7 day period)
- Failing to comply with a notice may result in a fine, or where necessary court proceedings, with magistrates able to impose potentially unlimited fines.
Click here for further guidance on Coronavirus Improvement and Restrictions Notices.
If the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Local Authorities deem there to be a serious or imminent threat to public health, they have the power to place restrictions on or have a premises closed down. This necessary measure will help manage the spread of the virus.
It is advisable to seek legal advice before considering whether you should be paying any potential fine or pleading guilty at court as you may have a defence. You could lose your business or have a licence to trade revoked if that is applicable to your operations. For example, public houses or licensed restaurants.
The police are finding it difficult to keep up with the legislation, which keeps changing on a regular basis. They are reporting people for offences when there is no breach of the law.
If you are suspected of having committed any offence relating to the Act and Regulations and are invited in for a voluntary/caution plus 3 police interview or charged to court, please feel free to get into contact with one of our legal experts on hand to help on 0800 2335822.