A human rights lawyer said the confusing way the Government introduced extra coronavirus laws for large parts of the North East of England was unacceptable.
Barrister Adam Wagner studied the North of England Coronavirus Regulations shortly after they were published around midnight and was critical of the way they were worded, with amendments and lengthy exceptions to existing legislation making the document difficult to follow, even for lawyers.
He told the PA news agency: “You cannot do law-making like that.
“You cannot do it by means by amendments in the middle of the night.
“It is unacceptable as a way of doing law-making.
“The only saving grace is that I don’t think the police are enforcing this yet because they haven’t a clue either.”
UPDATE – looks like the regulations do only apply in the North East after all, you have to subtract these sub paragraph numbers from a list in another set of regulations to get the areas right. Sorry for any confusion pic.twitter.com/NRtQKzbxv2
— Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1) September 30, 2020
The rules prohibit people from meeting others inside or outside in homes or any other private dwelling, unless they are from the same household or are linked households.
There are also exemptions for work, teaching, childcare, to provide care for a vulnerable person, when needing emergency assistance and for moving house.
Attending a birth at the mother’s request, visiting a close family member or friend who is dying, or to fulfil a legal obligation are also permitted.
Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Borough Council – one of the seven local authorities in the North East covered by the new rules – said they received draft copies of the legislation around 3pm on Tuesday, with the finalised version coming in an hour before the rules came into force.
He said staff had worked through the night to familiarise themselves with the rules and to work out answers for people confused about certain situations.
Mr Gannon said: “What really makes it hard is we have had three sets of regulations come in 10 days.
“No wonder people are getting confused and annoyed.
“It takes us several days to get the messaging clear and then it changes again.
“It will take some days for this to settle and for it to become the clear, definitive message.”
Kim McGuinness, Labour police and crime commissioner for Northumbria Police, said the Prime Minister had stoked further confusion after his comments about the North East restrictions on Tuesday.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think yesterday with the Prime Minister when he mis-spoke caused a lot of confusion.
“I think it is a big ask for people and what I would ask Government to do is be better at communicating in advance of these local restrictions, but also communicating with residents the reason why we need to be doing this.”
Ms McGuinness said police would “enforce if absolutely necessary” the new regulations but stressed that “compliance in general is very high” across the force area.
The new regulations cover around two million people living in Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham.
From today, residents in parts of the North East MUST NOT mix with people outside their households indoors, including pubs & restaurants.
This will be enforceable by law.
Areas affected: ▶️Durham▶️Gateshead▶️Newcastle ▶️North & South Tyneside▶️Northumberland▶️Sunderland
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) September 30, 2020
The elected mayor of Middlesbrough has now approached the Government asking for tougher measures to be introduced there, asking for a ban on people from mixing with other households in their homes.
But Andy Preston said he did not want an extension to the current rule of six for people going out in public, such as to bars and restaurants.
Mr Preston said: “We’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve concluded it’s the right thing for Middlesbrough.
“Our infection rate is growing at an alarming rate and Covid has already caused too much damage and pain to families around our town for us to stand by.”
Hartlepool Council has also asked for new restrictions on households mixing.
But councils elsewhere in the Tees Valley have not followed suit.
Councillor Bob Cook, leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, said: “We are not asking for further restrictions at this stage, but we will continue to carefully monitor the data and guidance provided by our public health team over the coming days and weeks.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have worked closely with local authorities in the North East to take targeted action and bring in regulations as quickly as possible.
“While we recognise the impact these additional measures have on people’s daily lives, we know that the quicker we act, the quicker we can get this virus under control and restore the freedoms we all enjoy – in the North East and across the country.”