Who Will Be Watching The Watchers?
We have now been in " lock down" for three weeks and at the outset we saw measures put in place that have severely restricted our movements, freedoms and liberty. Whilst I agree that to curtail the ferocious onslaught of the covid- 19 virus there is a need for some temporary restrictions, as the government put it "to flatten the curve". I am going to look at the powers the police have been given and how they should be used.
The restrictions have two main effects:
source: House of Commons briefing paper 8875
1/ To significantly restrict the free movement of people by making it an offence to leave home without a " reasonable excuse " and, with some exceptions, to gather in groups of more than two.
2/ Require all non-essential retail, hospitality and entertainment businesses to close.
These were made under the Public Health ( Control of Disease ) Act 1984 ( as amended). For England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland had the powers granted under the Coronavirus Act 2020.
The restrictions MUST be reviewed by parliament every twenty one days. In England, Wales and Scotland the review must take place on 16th of April 2020 and in Northern Ireland on the 18th of April 2020.
I eagerly await this review.
Some plain facts from these regulations that have allegedly been misrepresented by some police forces:
An individual may leave their home as many times a day as needed as long as they have a "reasonable excuse" for each time they leave their home. Parents whose children do not live with them, can arrange to see them.
People can move house where it is "reasonably necessary" for them to do so.
More than two people can attend a funeral but no more than ten at the moment.
The list is non - exhaustive and these are just a few examples where there has been misunderstanding. The police powers of arrest have been extended to include those individuals they believe have committed an offence under these new regulations. We have seen the Chief Constable of Northants allegedly threaten to search shopping bags for non-essential goods, only for the Home Secretary stop him.
The regulations state that a person can shop for products deemed non-essential as part of their shopping for essential items. Therefore if someone was to say pick up a plant pot whilst in Asda and add this to their essential food shopping this would not be an offence.
We have had the introduction of fixed penalty fines, which can be challenged in court, for those who flout the regulations. The police forces have been issued guidelines by the National Police Chiefs Council on how these regulations should be enforced. The main output from these is that constables must encourage people who they deem to have broken the regulations to return home by engaging with them and only use the fixed penalty notices and arrest where a person refuses to comply. There have been alleged incidents where people have said that the police have been over zealous. My personal view is that individuals need to police themselves and ask themselves is this journey necessary? If the journey is deemed necessary by said individual then so be it.
Protecting our freedoms:
There have been some areas of these enforcement powers that have been identified, that in essence protect the individuals right to be out when they need to be. The main one that stands out is where Constables will stop an individual and ask them to account why they are out ( Stop and account). An individual does not need to account for why they are out and can remain silent as there are no police powers to do a "stop and Account" under these regulations. This was upheld recently in court in the Ms Marie Dinou case where the original verdict was overturned when a human rights lawyer argued that her client's prosecution and conviction for an offence for failing to provide identity and reason for journey under the Coronavirus Act does not exist under the Act.
source : House of Commons briefing paper 8875 and The Times.
Why then are forces around the country doing this and why is there so much confusion ?
I believe that the government was woefully unprepared for such an event and hence the legislation was rushed through giving police forces little or no advice.
We need to remember the Peelian principle that the people are the police and the police are the people. We have the responsibility as Libertarians to remind people that they have the right to run their lives as they so wish to, within the law and those laws should come from a minarchist government and be clear in there meaning, enactment and have a relevant sunset clause attached.
What must we do from this as we go forward and come out the other side?
We must be the watchers who watch the watchers in both government and the police to make sure that these measures that are put in place are repealed quickly and in a timely manner. We must be there to share with people what the legislation really means.
There needs to be a seismic shift in the way our country is governed. During this period we have seen the government machine grow vastly and socialist policies put in place under a Conservative government. The planners have been planning and people have been hailing the government for spending "its" money to bailout all and sundry. I must remind people that it is not the governments money but their money paid for by taxation.
We have a mammoth job on our hands when this is all over to rebuild a shattered economy reduce very drastically the reach of the state and unleash the potential of a resurgent markets and private business.
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