Following Boris Johnson's lockdown speech on Monday, that very clearly stated the police would be granted emergency powers that "included" dispersing people and handing out fines, it's been made abundantly clear that they're not pissing about.
I thought it was pretty obvious to anyone that when the Prime Minister laid down the law – quite literally – about what is and isn't allowed for the duration of our new lockdown status, anyone not following the rules would be reprimanded. Johnson touched on the new powers bestowed on police, and while he didn't say outright that they'd be arresting people, his wording made it seem like this was an inevitability if you were confronted by the fuzz, told to bugger off home, and didn't comply.
Now we have more details on what kind of fines people could be looking at, and confirmation that yes, you could be arrested if you're flagrantly ignoring the rules and swanning around as if there's not a global pandemic killing people. The only people I can see actually getting dragged off by the police are the ones who were out panic buying and leaving the shelves bare for everyone else, while simultaneously ignoring the advice to self-isolate. Which is why these new measures are more stringent and there are actual consequences involved.
The legislation clarifies that you'll be fined £60 if you're found to be in breach of the regulations, although that'll drop down to £30 if you pay within 14 days. If you're fined again, meaning you've not paid any notice to the new reality we're all having to live in, then you're looking at £120. Screw up again, and it'll be at least double that, up to a maximum of £960. In terms of arrests, these are less likely to involve a policeman rifling through your shopping bag, deciding that a pack of Haribo doesn't qualify as 'essential', and tossing you in jail. But if you're hanging around with more than one other person and don't disperse when instructed, then your chances of getting arrested are going to shoot right up. A spokesperson for the Home Office said:
"Individuals who do not pay a fixed penalty notice under the Regulations could be taken to court, with magistrates able to impose unlimited fines. If an individual continues to refuse to comply, they will be acting unlawfully, and the police may arrest them where deemed proportionate and necessary.
“However, in the first instance the police will always apply their common sense and discretion.”
Common sense and discretion may not be things you'd typically associate with the police, so I suggest you don't give them an excuse to harangue you. As John Apter, Police Federation chair, pointed out on BBC News, the initial measures were without penalty because the population was trusted to be sensible. He said it's "not realistic" for an interrogation of every person spotted outdoors, but it's also not something we should be abusing, because the government will clamp down further.
"Certainly the police will get involved with more than two people gathering in the same place, but as far as policing the bread aisles in the supermarkets, or checking how many times people are going to the shops, that’s simply impractical."
Through a combination of the public refusing to do their own due diligence, and the government appearing somewhat lax themselves by not putting a stop to events like the Cheltenham Races for example, they've now had to up the ante to regain some measure of control over the situation and stop the spread of the virus. And that means cracking down on people who refuse to get on board. [Independent]
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