We are currently experiencing network problems with the desktop version of Police Oracle. We hope to have these resolved as soon as possible.

Emergency powers legislation: how it will operate

Police forces across the country have begun enforcing new laws preventing people’s movements. Forces say they will only use them ‘as last resort’

Police now have the powers to close any event and disperse more than two people - and council trading standards officers can close venues.

There are now only four reasons people are allowed to leave their homes.

Those who refuse can be fined. Full details on the new legislation, including human rights guidance can be found in our COVID-19 information hub (see legislation).

The National Police Chiefs’ Council took to social media to explain how officers are expected to enforce the legislation and the approach they will take.

Chairman Martin Hewitt said: “These measures are here to save lives and protect the NHS. Where we need to enforce them we will – as the public would want us to do. We will talk to people, explain the rules, ask questions and if people do not listen to that, then clearly we have to take action.”

Ahead of the changes, Metropolitan Police officers have been advising people and businesses of the new rules.

Commissioner Cressida Dick said he majority of the public had accepted the need for the police to act: “My officers are talking to people, engaging with people, they’re explaining the new guidance and the new rules. The vast majority of people are very positive and want to comply with the new guidance. We all have our role to play in keeping our country safe, keeping everybody safe.”

“We will only use enforcement if we absolutely have to but we won’t hesitate if there are people who are deliberately breaching the law. But I think the vast majority of people will want to comply with the law to keep their society safe.”

Other forces have brought in measures including closing front desks to the public to limit contact.

Norfolk’s Chief Constable Simon Bailey said there was now "no room for complacency”.

He said: "The measures taken so far to limit social distancing have not had the necessary effect, with some people still going about their business as if the threat from coronavirus didn’t exist. We all need to work together to protect our NHS and other public services.”

The new legislation:

Clause 49 introduces Schedule 21 which would provide public health officers with the power to quarantine those who have tested positive (or inconclusive) for coronavirus or those they reasonably suspect have the disease. It would also provide police officers and immigration officials with powers to take people they suspect have coronavirus to be tested or assessed by public health officers.

Clause 50 introduces Schedule 22 which would provide each of the UK governments with the power to issue directions prohibiting any event or gathering. It would also provide UK governments with the power to close or restrict access to any premises.

Taken together, clauses 49 and 50 would provide each of the UK governments with wide-ranging powers to restrict the freedom of movement of citizens in order to prevent the spread of the virus. However, there are no powers in the Bill which would allow directions to be issued requiring individuals to have prior permission or good reason to leave their homes. Neither would the Bill give the police or immigration officials powers to enforce elongated quarantines of people who have not been assessed for the virus by public health officers.

Port closures

Clause 50 would enable the Secretary of State to direct a port operator to temporarily close a port where it becomes impossible to ensure adequate border security, as a result of the impact of coronavirus on border force personnel. Failure to comply with an order would be a summary offence. Counter-terrorism legislation provides specific powers for designated officers at ports and airports to stop, search, question and detain people who may be engaged in or planning terrorist acts or hostile activity on behalf of another state.

Investigatory powers

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 governs the process for issuing warrants to law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies to intercept communications; gain access to communications data; and engage in equipment interference (hacking into devices). Warrants generally require the approval of an independent Judicial Commissioner before coming into force, except in urgent cases, where approval may be sought subsequently. Clauses 22 and 23 of the Bill would allow for the appointment of temporary Commissioners, where necessary as a result of coronavirus, and to extend the timeframe for gaining approval for warrants issued in urgent cases.

Biometric data

A new clause 24 was added to the Bill by a Government amendment in the Commons. It would enable the Secretary of State to make regulations extending the length of time that biometric samples – fingerprints and DNA – are able to be retained for national security purposes.

Clause 50 introduces Schedule 22 which would allow each government of the UK’s countries to put their nation into a ‘public health response period’. With this the relevant government can issue directions which prohibit any event or gathering or close or restrict access to any premises.

Whilst such measures could have profound implications on where people can go, they would not prevent people from leaving their homes entirely. There are no powers in the Bill which would allow directions to be issued requiring individuals to have prior permission or good reason to be outside.

When can the powers be used?

Directions prohibiting events/ gatherings or placing restrictions on premises will only be able to be issued when the relevant government declares a “public health response period”.

A “public health response period” can be declared by any of the governments of the UK’s constituent countries when they believe that the spread of coronavirus constitutes a “serious and imminent threat to public health” in their nation and that it will:

• prevent, protect against, delay or otherwise control the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, or
• facilitate the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel.

Existing Legislation that is also relevant:

Under section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 the police can enter a property without a warrant in order to save “life or limb” or “prevent serious damage”.
• They have common law powers to prevent a ‘breach of the peace’. For example, officers may make an arrest or enforce a cordon.
• Under subsection 89(2) of the Police Act 1996 it is an offence to resist or wilfully obstruct a constable in the execution of his duty.5 Therefore, officers may arrest those who fail to comply with their lawful instructions.

Human Rights

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), implemented domestically by the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), permits interference with specific rights for the purpose of protecting public health. It also permits derogations from the obligation to protect certain rights in times of emergency “threatening the life of the nation” but only “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation”.

Leave a Comment
View Comments 3
In Other News
When Saturday doesn't come ...
Interview: South Wales Chief Constable Matt Jukes
Met calls on retired PCs and sergeants to rejoin the force
Deliberate coughing will be treated as an assault says CPS
Speeding drivers take advantage of quieter roads and MOT exemption
Forces raise concern over resilience plans for elderly through LRFs
First responder COVID-19 information hub: useful links and updates
Solicitors are refusing to attend police stations due to ‘custody chaos’
Interview: South Yorkshire PCC on remote working and contingency plans
Police chiefs seek clarity on COVID-19 restrictions
College of Policing postpones all face-to-face training
More News