New laws on enforcing lockdown are 'barely comprehensible', legal expert warns

A legal expert has called the government’s new coronavirus laws “barely comprehensible” as England’s lockdown was eased.

The changes allow people to meet in groups of six outdoors and in private gardens, provided they maintain social distancing.

David Allen Green, a commentator on law and policy, pointed to a change in regulations which he said had essentially overturned the “widest criminal prohibition ever in peacetime” and implemented instead a “mere sleepover ban”.

He said this would have consequences for how police enforce restrictions on movement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).
Boris Johnson's new coronavirus regulations have been criticised by a legal commentator. (PA Images)

The Health Protection Regulations 2020 have been changed so the restriction that “no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse” has been substituted with “no person may, without reasonable excuse, stay overnight at any place other than the place where they are living”.

Possible exemptions include attending a funeral, an elite athlete in training or someone escaping a risk of harm.

The previous regulation stipulated that the only reasonable excuses for leaving the house were obtaining basic necessities, taking exercise or seeking medical assistance.

Green was also critical of changes to regulations which govern restrictions on gatherings.

Previously the law banned any “gathering in a public place of more than two people” except for people in the same household, work purposes, funeral attendees and when reasonably necessary.

Read more: Spain to ban British holidaymakers until its COVID situation improves

The regulation now allows gatherings of up to six people outdoors but bans meetings indoors, unless they are members of the same household.

However, it includes a number of exceptions, including “for work purposes”.

Police have previously warned that enforcing the lockdown was getting tougher due to the way the rules were set out.

Speaking earlier in May, before the new rules came in, John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation, said it was “almost impossible” to enforce the restrictions, The Telegraph reported.

West Yorkshire Police Federation’s chairman Brian Booth told BBC News they were “woolly”.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “This is a sensitive moment.

“We can’t just stay in lockdown forever. We have got to transition.”

When he announced the easing of England’s lockdown on 28 May, Boris Johnson warned: “It’s very, very important that people understand the really limited nature of what we’re saying.

“We do want people to be able to see their friends and family, we do want people to see two grandparents at once but it’s got to be socially distanced, there’s got to be a maximum of six people.”

He added: “We don’t want people to stay overnight, we don’t want people to go to other households and stay there, I’m just afraid we’re not at that stage.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We have set out our plan to return life to as near normal as we can, for as many people as we can, as quickly and fairly as possible in order to safeguard livelihoods, but in a way that is safe and continues to protect our NHS.

“Changes to coronavirus regulations mean people can spend time outdoors, including private gardens and other outdoor spaces, in groups of up to six people from different households. However, everybody should act responsibly and continue to strictly observe social distancing rules.

“Individuals who participate in a prohibited gathering will be in breach of the regulations, and the police will use their common sense and discretion in all cases.”

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