Understanding the law

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The Coronavirus Act 2020, health protection regulations and government guidance and how they help the police to play their part in the national effort to save lives and protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.

First published
Written by College of Policing
15 mins read

Health regulations

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force on 26 March 2020 and apply to England only. They have been subject to several amendments since they came into force. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have equivalent legislation, which has also been amended since coming into force. The purpose of these powers is to save lives by protecting the public and the NHS.

Our full briefing pack can be found in the related resources section on this page.

It covers The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations (reconciling powers in relation to business closures with powers to disperse gatherings and restrictions on movement). This pack is consistent with the changes in regulations from the 1 June 2020. Summary briefings highlighting the 1 June changes alone are also available.

Officers should continue to encourage and support our communities to comply with the regulations to keep everyone as safe as possible. They should also be mindful of the differences in the regulations between the devolved administrations and England. Policing should continue to use our 4E approach of engaging, explaining, encouraging and only enforcing as a last resort.   

Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020

Following the introduction of the new Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020. The briefing pack for police is in related resources on this page.

From 8 June 2020, people who arrive in England will need to provide passenger information and self-isolate for 14 days (some exceptions apply). The police will only become involved once they receive a referral from a triage centre and support is requested. Officers will continue to adopt the four E’s approach of engaging, explaining and encouraging the person to self-isolate, only using enforcement as a last resort.

Coronavirus Act 2020

We have developed new guidance for police in England to explain the additional powers which police now have to support healthcare professionals following the introduction of the government Coronavirus Act 2020. The guidance includes details on the need for officers to work at the direction or advice of healthcare professionals in using these powers.

Summary of the Coronavirus Act 2020

As part of the national police response to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we've summarised the key points around the new legislation, regulations and guidance for frontline police officers and staff in England.

The full briefing pack is in the related resources section on this page. 

  • Enacted on 25 March 2020
  • Use of powers under this legislation will be public health led. The powers are to support public health officers in the testing and treatment of individuals where needed, to avoid further transmission of the COVID-19 virus
  • Partnership arrangements with Public Health England and collaborative decision-making are key to enforcing these provisions
  • A public health officer can direct or remove a person to a place suitable for screening and assessment. They can ask a constable to support this process if necessary. This should occur only in the most exceptional circumstances
  • A constable must seek the advice of a public health official in judging whether they have reasonable grounds to suspect a person is potentially infectious unless this is impracticable. If an officer has reasonable grounds they can remove a person to a place suitable for screening and assessment or keep the person at that place until a public health officer can assess them. Details of what constitutes reasonable grounds can be found in the full Coronavirus Act brief
  • Police are able to use reasonable force to enforce these powers where necessary. However, in line with the Health Protection regulations, enforcement should be the last option

What it means for the public

The police's approach to all COVID-19 powers is for officers to engage, explain, encourage the public and only enforce as a last resort.

The police are taking a joined up approach with healthcare professionals to help save lives.

These police are not seeking to criminalise people, but to ensure that people follow the life-saving guidance.

Individuals with responsibility for a child, where practical, must ensure the child follows with any directions, instructions or restrictions from police and give information and assistance as needed.

All decisions to quarantine, place restrictions or require information can only be made by public health officers and are subject to regular review and appeal.

Policing powers for officers under the Coronavirus Act

This legislation is to support healthcare professionals, in exceptional circumstances.

Police should obtain advice from a public health officer when considering whether they have reasonable grounds to suspect someone is infectious. Details of what constitutes reasonable grounds can be found in the full Coronavirus Act brief in the related resources section on this page.

If a public health officer identifies an individual suspected of being infectious, they can direct or remove that person to a place suitable for screening and assessment. They can ask a constable to support this process if necessary.

In most cases, the police's role is to prevent a breach of the peace while health officers perform their public duty.

Police can keep a person at a place suitable for screening and assessment for up to 24 hours, this can be extended by a superintendent (or above) by another 24 hours, if necessary.

There are five main summary offences created by the legislation. These offences are punishable on summary conviction (magistrates' court) by a fine not exceeding £1,000.

A person commits an offence if they:

  • fail without reasonable excuse to comply with any direction, reasonable instruction, requirement or restriction
  • abscond, or attempt to abscond, while being removed to or kept at a place of detention or isolation
  • knowingly provide false or misleading information in response to a requirement to provide information
  • obstruct a person who is exercising or attempting to exercise a power
  • fail without reasonable excuse to ensure that a child they have responsibility for complies with any direction, instruction, requirement or restriction given to or imposed on the child, or to provide such information and assistance in relation to the child as is reasonably necessary and practicable in the circumstances

Personal safety

Continue to follow the Public Health England guidance for first responders who may come into close contact with symptomatic people with potential COVID-19.

Use the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that your force has provided.