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No one reading this blog will have failed to notice that yesterday evening, the Prime Minister announced a series of measures which some are referring to as “lockdown”. The full text of the announcement can be found here.

It is also clear that the enforcement many of these will involve the police. However, the basis or extent of these powers has not been made clear. For example, in relation to the announcement that the government is “stopping all public gatherings of more than two people” it has been said that the police will have the power both to fine people and to disperse such gatherings. The announcement does not make clear: 

- The threshold for acting: will it be reasonable grounds to suspect?

- The areas covered by the ban – any public place?What about private places? Will there be a power of entry?

- The nature of the penalty: will it be a fine akin to a fixed penalty notice? If so, how will it be enforced? Will it be an offence to fail to give your name and address to an officer? What if the officer thinks the personal details given are untrue?

Legislation will clearly be necessary. Presumably in the short term, this will be in the form of regulations. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 contains numerous, significant powers that could be used, such as the power under sections 19-23 to make emergency regulations that bypass the usual parliamentary procedures. These regulations include the power to create new summary offences, with a maximum sentence of a fine or three months’ imprisonment. However, the Civil Contingencies Act has not yet been triggered. This is despite the definition of an emergency within section 19 of that Act, a “an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare in the United Kingdom or in a Part or region” plainly being met.

It is unhelpful to speculate further as to the precise nature, basis or extent of the new powers. The police team at Serjeants’ Inn will provide an update here as soon as it knows more. 

For any members of the public reading this blog, please do not contact the police for further information, as they do not (as at the time of posting) have any more information than you do.