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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Mixed messages on policing the lockdown

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current government lockdown and the actions of police in enforcing it, the one thing that is clear is that there is still a huge amount of confusion about what we can and cannot do, and that this confusion extends to the police who seem to be applying different interpretations of the rules in different parts of the country.

As the Guardian reports, a former supreme court justice has heavily criticised Derbyshire police for stopping people exercising in the Peak District saying that such behaviour risks plunging Britain into a “police state”. Lord Sumption has warned that police have no legal power to enforce “ministers’ wishes” and that the public should not be “resigning their liberty” to over-zealous citizens in uniform.

The paper says that on Sunday it emerged that Derbyshire police had dyed the usually turquoise water of a lagoon black in the beauty spot to deter tourists from visiting. They took the action as groups were congregating at the disused quarry at Harpur Hill near Buxton.

The force has also been criticised for using a drone to track a couple walking in the Peak District with their dog back to Sheffield and posting images of them on Twitter to warn against “non-essential” travel.

Although my sympathies are with the judge and I understand the dangers of us degenerating into a police state, I also think that this temporary lockdown is needed if we are to check the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.

Nevertheless, there are a number of instances being reported where police are enforcing rules that do not exist and where they have gone further than the legislation specifies. In one case it was reported that police believe the purchase of Easter Eggs are not allowed under the rules as they are non-essential items and that they have tried to encourage shops to remove them from their shelves.

Personally, I am going to need chocolate to survive this crisis and if it is bought as part of a wider shop then what is the problem?

Looking to the UK Government for clarity appears to be pointless. The Independent reports that a senior Conservative Minister also believes police forces may have gone too far in enforcing the UK’s nationwide lockdown:

“The police are doing a difficult job and they are doing it well,” Mr Shapps told Sky News on Tuesday.

“I am sure there are individual examples where perhaps you look at it and think that is perhaps a bit further than they should have gone.”

He added: “But in general terms I think the case is that if people help everybody out, including the police, by staying home and the rest of it, then there will be no problems.”

There is though no sign of clearer guidance being offered to officers, including an explanation of what the regulations actually say. Surely that is needed if this lockdown is to work properly without severing the relationship that currently exists between police and the general public.
I seems that police forces think they should be enforcing the guidance rather than the regulations. The regulations (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/350/made) do not refer to essential travel and do not ban non-essential travel. The word “essential” only appears four times, twice with regard to places of worship – “essential voluntary services”, once regarding “essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household” and finally “where the gathering is essential for work purposes”.

As a councillor can you contract your police authority to ensure they are enforcing the regulations and not the guidance?
Legally the regulations and guidance are interlinked and have to be implemented together
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