The Coronavirus Act 2020: The Suspension of Port Operations

Introduction

The Coronavirus Act 2020 introduces new powers from 25 March 2020 to provide for the suspension of port operations. The Secretary of State is given power to suspend port operations by section 50 and Schedule 20 of the Act.

The Secretary of State may give a direction in writing to an operator of a port requiring that operator to suspend such relevant port operations as she may specify in the direction. Such a direction may only be given if:

  • She considers that there is a real and significant risk that, as a direct or indirect result of the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, there are or will be insufficient border force officers to maintain adequate border security, and
  • She has taken such other measures as are reasonably practicable to mitigate that risk.

The Duration of Suspension 

A direction under must specify  the operator to whom it is given;  the relevant port operations which are to be suspended;  the time at which the direction takes effect; the period of time for which the direction is to remain in effect (the  “suspension period”); and any arrangements that must be made, or steps that must be taken, by the operator which are reasonably incidental to the direction.

The suspension period specified in may be no longer than six hours.

However, if after giving a direction  the Secretary of State considers that there is or will be a  real and significant risk that, as a direct or indirect result of the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, there are or will be insufficient border force officers to maintain adequate border security, if the suspension period is not extended, the Secretary of State may before the expiry of the period extend it by notice in writing to the operator.

The first notice in relation to a suspension period may not extend the period for more than six hours from the time at which it would otherwise expire. A second or subsequent notice under in relation to a suspension period may not extend the period for more than twelve hours from the time at which it would otherwise expire.

 Consequential Directions and Provision

Where the Secretary of State gives a direction to suspend port operations, she may also give a direction in writing to any person requiring the person to make such arrangements, or take such steps, as she considers appropriate in consequence of the direction.

Such a direction must specify the person to whom it is given, the arrangements that the person is required to make or the steps that they are required to take, and it must be accompanied by the direction to the port operator to which it relates.

Such a direction may, among other things require a person to take action to secure the safe arrival of any vessel, aircraft, train or other conveyance or vehicle at an alternative port; and specify a period of time for which the direction is to remain in effect.

 The Secretary of State must notify the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland of any direction or notice given.

The Secretary of State may at any time revoke a direction or notice to any extent, having regard to whether there is a real and significant risk that, as a direct or indirect result of the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, there are or will be insufficient border force officers to maintain adequate border security.

 Criminal Offences 

A person commits an offence if the person fails without reasonable excuse to comply with a direction A person has in particular a reasonable excuse if complying with the direction would cause the person to breach a duty to which the person is subject by virtue of any enactment. Those duties include duties under a direction or instruction given by the Secretary of State under:

  • Schedule 3A to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995
  • Part 2 of the Aviation Security Act 1982
  • Sections 118 and 119 of the Railways Act 1993
  • Articles 13 to 16 of the Channel Tunnel (Security) Order 1994

A person guilty of an offence is liable on summary conviction:

  • in England and Wales, to a fine or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 51 weeks or both
  • in Scotland, to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both, or
  • in Northern Ireland, to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both

In relation to an offence committed before section 281(5) of the Criminal
Justice Act 2003 comes into force, the reference to 51 weeks (England and Wales) is to be read as a reference to 6 months.

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