The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has pledged that Covid-19 laws will be enforced ‘more quickly’ and that people breaking the rules were ‘increasingly likely to face fines’. Cressida Dick, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, explained that police officers have responded to reports of house parties, raves and basement gambling events, despite a surge in coronavirus case numbers. This has meant that a stricter approach to enforcement is only ‘common sense’. ‘It is preposterous to me that anyone could be unaware of our duty to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus,’ she said in a recent Times article.
Since the beginning of lockdown in March 2020, the police have used the ‘Four Es’ approach to the Covid laws: engage, explain, encourage and enforce. The Commissioner’s comments yesterday suggested police will move to the enforcement stage much sooner in the process. Over the Christmas period, 6,500 fixed penalty notices were issued by police officers across the UK.
Commissioner Dick also called on the government to clarify certain rules, such as those on exercise. ‘Anything that brings greater clarity, for officers and the public, in general, will be a good thing,’ she said. The issue of proper enforcement of the Covid lockdown laws has come into sharp focus following the case of Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, who were fined after driving five miles for a walk. These fines have since been withdrawn. That case highlights the confusion caused by the complex laws that give effect to the lockdown, as well as the murky distinction between what is permitted by law in contrast to the government guidance.
The human rights lawyer has estimated that the lockdown rules have changed 65 times – our every four and a half days since the pandemic started.
A journalist asked me about my claim on @BBCr4today today that there have been 65 revisions to the lockdown laws and said “you don’t have any kind of tabulation or something to prove it” and I said “… as it happens…” like a lawyer nerd’s ultimate dream https://t.co/5Z1p3gVjbX
— Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1) January 12, 2021
The Commissioner’s comments come alongside similar warnings from police chiefs across England. Suffolk’s Assistant Chief Constable Rob Jones told the BBC, that ‘patience is running out’ with rule-breakers. Members of the public were now more likely to report breaches of the law, he said, with 1 in 20 calls to Suffolk Police relating to Covid-19.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has called for ‘strong enforcement’ and defended the police’s handling of rule breakers. However, police chiefs have told their officers to use their own judgment when enforcing the law but this risks creating an inconsistent approach to enforcement across the country. It also sits at odds with the message from the government to ‘stay at home, save lives, and protect the NHS’.
The policing minister, Kit Malthouse, told BBC Breakfast: ‘We are urging the small minority of people who aren’t taking this seriously to do so now .. if they don’t they are much more likely to get fined by the police.’