Driving to the countryside and walking – where more time is spent doing the latter than the former – is among a list of reasonable excuses for Britons leaving their home during the coronavirus lockdown, according to advice issued to police.
A document published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the professional standards body the College of Policing says public statements made soon after the adoption of the lockdown regulations suggested members of the public could leave their homes only if “essential” to do so.
However, the document says the legal basis for police is in fact whether someone has a “reasonable excuse”.
The document categorically states it is “lawful to drive for exercise”. However, driving for a prolonged period for only brief exercise would “not likely” be a reasonable excuse.
“Exercise must involve some movement, but it is acceptable for a person to stop for a break in exercise,” the guide says.
“However, a very short period of ‘exercise’ to excuse a long period of inactivity may mean that the person is not engaged in ‘exercise’ but in fact something else.”
What do the restrictions involve?
People in the UK will only be allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:
Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home
Police will have the powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government will:
Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
Stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
Stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals
Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.
Stopping to rest or to eat lunch while on a long walk is also reasonable but a short walk to a park bench, when the person remains seated for a much longer period, is not, the document says.
In terms of acquiring necessities, the guide confirms there is no need for all of a person’s shopping to be basic food supplies, adding “the purchase of snacks and luxuries is still permitted”.
The regulations specify maintenance and upkeep of properties, the document explains, but this does not extend to renovation and improvements.
So, buying tools and supplies to repair a fence panel damaged in recent bad weather would be reasonable, but buying paint and brushes simply to redecorate a kitchen would not.
Turning to work, the document confirms there is no requirement to be a key worker or essential worker in order to travel to work, adding “anyone can travel to work if it is not reasonably possible to work from home”.
However, the guide singles out people who can work from home choosing to work in a local park as not a reasonable excuse to be out of the home.
The document states the regulations allow people to move house, meaning individuals can move between households.
It adds that “moving to a friend’s address for several days to allow a ‘cooling-off’ following arguments at home” is likely to be a reasonable excuse.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) produced what the NPCC and the College of Policing have called the “really useful practical guide” and allowed the two organisations to reproduce the document.
The list is not exhaustive, the document cautions, and officers are required to use “discretion and judgment” in deciding what is and is not reasonable.
The College of Policing said the national guidance and policing approach had not changed and the document was issued to help police officers remain consistent with criminal justice colleagues.
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