Priti Patel told she ‘doesn’t understand her own laws’ after saying bumping into friends in a park is illegal

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read

Watch: Here’s what home secretary Priti Patel had to say when asked if two families of four stopping for a chat on the way to the park constituted “mingling”

  • Home secretary Priti Patel says a family of four stopping for a chat with another family of four constitutes “mingling” and is therefore illegal

  • Top human rights lawyer says this is “wrong” and that Patel doesn’t understand her own laws

  • It comes amid continued confusion over the government’s new “rule of six” coronavirus law

  • Visit the Yahoo homepage for more stories

A leading human rights lawyer has said home secretary Priti Patel does not understand her own laws.

It comes amid continued confusion over the government’s “mingling” ban set out in its “rule of six” coronavirus law which bans most indoor and outdoor social gatherings of more than six people in England.

Patel, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, was asked if two families of four stopping for a chat on the way to the park constituted “mingling”. “Mingling” has been banned by the government in certain scenarios in the “rule of six”.

“I think it is absolutely mingling,” she said. “You have got to put this in the context of coronavirus and keeping distance, wearing masks.

“The rule of six is about making sure that people are being conscientious and not putting other people’s health at risk.”

However, barrister Adam Wagner said this is “wrong” as the mingling ban – which stops people mixing with others outside their group – applies to designated social gatherings “operated by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body”.

Wagner wrote on Twitter: “People walking to the park must not form a 'gathering' of more than six. But that has a different definition.

Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth office on September 15, 2020. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Priti Patel pictured on Tuesday before Boris Johnson's cabinet meeting at the Foreign Office. (AFP via Getty Images)

“A gathering is where people are ‘present together... in order to engage in any form of social interaction’.

“I doubt people accidentally bumping into each other saying 'hi' would meet that definition as they are not there 'in order' to socially engage, they have bumped into each other unintentionally.”

He said of Patel: “It is really disappointing that the minister who signed these regulations into law doesn't understand them herself. The government should urgently correct her.”

Former Tory MP Anna Soubry labelled her former colleague’s comments “complete nonsense” which “risk a total breakdown on COVID-19 rule compliance”.

Watch: What are the current UK government guidelines on face coverings within schools?

The “rule of six”, which came into force on Monday, offers no definition of what “mingling” means in legal terms.

Wagner has also claimed the rule is therefore “nigh on impossible to enforce”.

Downing Street said on Monday that the National Police Chiefs’ Council will set out guidance for officers on how to respond to unlawful mingling.

However, John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales told Good Morning Britain on Tuesday that officers were still unsure how to uphold the new law, which bans any social gatherings of over six people.

In response to a question about having “more guidance”, Apter responded: “Maybe we should have ‘guidance’, because we haven’t had any yet.”

Apter said he understood the government faced a “very fast-moving” and complicated situation but added: “My colleagues who are on the front line trying to interpret this law, trying to educate and work with the public, are now being accused of asking (people) to snitch on their neighbours.”

Under the new law, people face fines of £100, doubling to a maximum of £3,200 for repeat offences, for breaching the law which bans social gatherings of more than six people both indoors and outdoors.

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