The Coronavirus Act 2020: Powers to Control Movement, Events, Gatherings and Premises

Introduction 

 The Coronavirus Act 2020 introduces new powers in two areas in relation to events, gatherings and premises:

  • To prohibit or otherwise restrict events or gatherings
  • To close premises or impose restrictions on persons entering or remaining inside them

The Act provides for person, or description of person, designated in writing by the Secretary of State to take such action as is necessary to enforce compliance with a direction. Further, criminal proceedings for an offence may be brought by a person, or description of person, designated in writing by the Secretary of State.

Thus, the Act introduces far-reaching powers to control movement, activity, and human contact. The scope of the powers is understandable given the scale of the crisis. Given that they are so far-reaching, scrutiny of their exercise will be important; the society that is to be preserved is one that values life, well-being, and the rule of law.

Separate provision is made for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. For reasons of economy, only the provision in relation to England is set out below.

The purpose of this post is to present these new powers in digestible form.

In the Act, section 52 and Schedule 22 confer power to issue directions in relation events, gatherings and premises.

“Premises” includes any place and, in particular, includes:

  • any vehicle, train, vessel or aircraft
  • any tent or movable structure
  • any offshore installation

Declaration of threat to Public Health due to Coronavirus

 If at any time the Secretary of State is of the view that:

  • the incidence or transmission of coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health, and
  • the powers conferred will be an effective means of (1) preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the incidence or transmission of, or (2) facilitating the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel and resources,

the Secretary of State may make a declaration to that effect.

If, having made a declaration, the Secretary of State ceases to be of that view, the Secretary of State must revoke the declaration.

A declaration or the revocation of a declaration is to be made by being published online, andmust, as soon as reasonably practicable after it is made, also be published in the London Gazette.

Before making or revoking a declaration under this paragraph, the Secretary of State must consult the Chief Medical Officer or any of the Deputy Chief Medical Officers of the Department of Health and Social Care. A declaration may be made on more than one occasion.

A “public health response period” is created by a declaration. It is the period which:

  • begins when the Secretary of State makes a declaration, and
  • ends when the Secretary of State revokes the declaration

Directions

During a public heath response period, the Secretary of State may give directions. Thereafter, the Secretary of State may vary or revoke to any extent a direction issued.

Before issuing a direction, the Secretary of State must have regard to any relevant advice given to the Secretary of State by the Chief Medical Officer or any of the Deputy Chief Medical Officers of the Department of Health and Social Care.

Where a direction imposes, prohibitions, requirements or restrictions on a person specified by name, the direction:

  • must be given in writing to that person, and
  • may be published in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate to bring it to the attention of other persons who may be affected by it.

Where the Secretary of State varies or revokes a direction which imposes prohibitions, requirements or restrictions on a person specified by name, notice of the variation or revocation:

  • must be given in writing to that person, and
  • may be published in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate to bring it to the attention of other persons who may be affected by it.

In any other case, the direction must be published in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate to bring it to the attention of persons who may be affected by it. Where the Secretary of State varies or revokes any other direction, notice of the variation or revocation must be published in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate to bring it to the attention of persons who may be affected by the variation or revocation.

When a public health response period comes to an end, a direction issued during that period ceases to have effect in respect of times after the end of the period.

Power to prohibit or otherwise restrict events or gatherings

 The Secretary of State may issue a direction prohibiting, or imposing requirements or restrictions in relation to, the holding of an event or gathering, for the purpose of:

  • preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, or
  • facilitating the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel and resources,

A direction may be issued in relation to:

  • a specified event or gathering, or
  • events or gatherings of a specified description

A direction may only have the effect of imposing prohibitions, requirements or restrictionson:

  • the owner or occupier of premises for an event or gathering to which the direction relates
  • the organiser of such an event or gathering
  • any other person involved in holding such an event or gathering

A reference to a person involved in the holding of an event or gathering does not include a person whose only involvement in the event or gathering is, or would be, by attendance at the event or gathering.

A direction may only be issued during a public health response period.

A direction may, among other things, impose requirements about informing persons who may be planning to attend an event or gathering of its prohibition or any requirements or restrictions imposed in relation to the holding of it.

Events or gatherings may be described:

  • by reference to a number of people attending the event or gathering
  • by reference to a requirement for medical or emergency services to attend the event or gathering, or
  • in any other way

A reference to a person involved in the holding of an event or gathering does not include a person whose only involvement in the event or gathering is, or would be, by attendance at the event or gathering.

Power to Close Premises or Impose Restrictions on Persons Entering or Remaining in Them

 The Secretary of State may issue a direction imposing prohibitions, requirements or restrictions in relation to the entry into, departure from, or location of persons in, premises, for the purpose of:

  • preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, or
  • facilitating the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel and resources,

A direction may be issued in relation to:

  • specified premises, or
  • premises of a specified description

A direction may only have the effect of imposing prohibitions, requirements or restrictions on:

  • the owner or occupier of premises to which the direction relates
  • any other person involved in managing entry into, or departure from, such premises or the location of persons in them

A direction may only be issued during a public health response period.

A direction may, among other things, impose requirements for the purpose of:

  • closing the premises
  • restricting entry into the premises
  • securing restrictions in relation to the location of persons in the premises

A direction may impose prohibitions, requirements or restrictions by reference to (among other things):

  • the number of persons in the premises
  • the size of the premises
  • the purpose for which a person is in the premises
  • the facilities in the premises
  • a period of time

Criminal Offences and Enforcement

A person commits an offence if the person fails without reasonable excuse to comply with a prohibition, requirement or restriction imposed on the person by a direction. A person guilty of an offence under this paragraph is liable on summary conviction to a fine.

If an offence committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of an officer of the body, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of such an officer, the officer (as well as the body corporate) is guilty of the offence and liable to be prosecuted and proceeded against and punished accordingly.

“Officer”, in relation to a body corporate, means a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate.

A person, or description of person, designated in writing by the Secretary of State may take such action as is necessary to enforce compliance with a direction.

 Proceedings for an offence may be brought by a person, or description of person, designated in writing by the Secretary of State.

These powers do not affect any other power to enforce compliance with a direction or to bring proceedings for an offence.

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