March 30, 2020

COVID-19: UK introduces emergency restrictions on movement and orders business closures


Although the Government has, since 23 March 2020, required people to stay at home (except in limited circumstances) and closed certain premises, the legal basis for such restrictions has only recently (as from 1:00pm on 26 March) come into effect.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 were made under the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Regulations impose unprecedented restrictions on movement, backed by criminal penalties. They also require the closure of a wider range of premises than was previously the case, under earlier Regulations (now revoked) made on 23 March 2020.

The two key provisions restricting movement are Regulations 6 and 7.

Restriction on movement and gatherings

Under Regulation 6 it is an offence (during the emergency period – see further below) for any person to leave the place where they are living "without reasonable excuse".

Regulation 6(2) then sets out a non-exhaustive list of exceptions to the prohibition. These include, leaving the place where a person is living:

  • to obtain basic necessities;
  • to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;
  • to seek or give medical assistance;
  • to travel for the purposes of work where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work from the place where they are living; and
  • to avoid injury or illness or to escape harm.

It should be noted that it is permissible to travel for the purposes of work, even though the work itself is not essential (provided it is not reasonably possible to do the work from home). This seems to be at odds with previous guidance to the effect that travelling to and from work was only permissible "where this is absolutely necessary".

Regulation 7 makes it an offence for any person to participate in a gathering in a public place of more than two people (subject to very limited exceptions).

Where a "relevant person" (a police officer, police community support officer or person designated by a local authority) consider that a person is in breach of Regulation 7, they may issue "any reasonable instruction they consider necessary". 

It is an offence to fail to comply with any such instruction.

The Regulations provide no right of appeal against any such instruction.

Regulation 10 provides for fixed penalty notices ("FPN") to be available for breach of any of the offences mentioned above: for a first FPN the penalty is £60 (or £30 if paid with 14 days); for a second FPN £120; and for subsequent FPNs double the previous amount, subject to a maximum of £960.

Compulsory closure of premises

Regulation 4 of (and Schedule 2 to) the Regulations set out the list of premises required to be closed. We do not list them here, but can provide the list on request.

The list of premises that may remain open to the public is surprisingly wide. It includes: food retailers (including corner shops), pharmacies, chemists, newsagents, homeware, building supplies and hardware stores, petrol stations, car repair and MOT service, bicycle shops, post offices, funeral directors, launderettes and dry cleaners, dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths, vets, pet shops, agricultural supplies and storage and distribution.

It is difficult to reconcile the very sweeping prohibition on the free movement of people with the types of premises which are permitted to remain open. So, for instance, Regulation 6 provides that it is a reasonable excuse to leave the place where a person is living in order to obtain basic necessities, but it seems odd that a routine visit to a newsagents (which is permitted to remain open under Regulation 4) is properly considered a basic necessity.

The Regulations are in force for an emergency period of 6 months but are subject to periodic review by the Secretary of State for Health, the first such review taking place by 16 April 2020.

Should you require further advice on the Regulations, please contact Kate Ball-Dodd, Michael Hutchinson or Tim Baines.

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