Offences Under Coronavirus Legislation

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Criminal Offences Under the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020

In addition to implementing measures like closing pubs, shops, and restauarants in order to safeguard public health, the government has created a number of criminal offences as a means of actually enforcingthese measures.

Scottish Ministers are enabled by Section 49 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 to make regulations for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination in Scotland. Under this Section, the Scottish Ministers passed The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020, which contains the offences and associated regulations designed to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

Offences Under The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020

Contravention of the Regulations

Regulation 8 of Part 4 makes it an offence to contravene any of the restrictions contained within Regulations 3 to 7.

  • Regulations 3 and 4 pertain to the closure of premises and limitation of business activities. Note, however, that how these Regulations apply to particular businesses will differ depending on the type of business; the categories of businesses can be found here.
  • Regulations 5 and 6 govern restrictions on movement and gatherings of two people or more; and
  • Regulation 7 relates to the enforcement of these restrictions. 

Importantly, it is not required that the person enforcing these restrictions is a Police Constable. Paragraph 12 of Regulation 7 provides that local authorities may designate certain people as having the authority to enforce the restrictions. However, although the powers that they are given under the legislation are largely the same (they are both empowered to give prohibition notices and instructions, disobedience whereof constituting an offence), only constables are permitted to use force in exercising these powers. 

Obstructing Relevant Persons

If someone is lawfully exercising their power under these Regulations, then it is an offence to obstruct them or attempt to obstruct them.

Non-compliance with Directions, Prohbition Notices & Instructions

If someone fails to comply with directions, prohibition notices or instructions given under these regulations, then they are committing an offence. This is still the case if the direction, notice, or instruction is given by a civilian who is a designated person. 

‘Reasonable Excuse’ Defence

If you are charged with committing an offence under the Regulations, it is a defence to show that you had a reasonable excuse to be doing what you were doing. In this context, what is considered a ‘reasonable excuse’ is a closed category, which means that all of the possible scenarios are defined in the legislation. ‘Reasonables excuse’ includes the need to:—

  • to obtain basis necessities
  • to exercise, either alone or with members of your household
  • to seek medical assistance
  • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person
  • to donate blood
  • to travel to work or to provide voluntary or charitable services where it isn’t possible to do these things from home
  • to attend a funeral of a member of your household, close family member, or a friend, but only if neither members of your household or close family members are attending
  • to fulfil a legal obligation, which includes attending court
  • to access critical public services, including childcare, social services, services provided by the DWP, and victim suppport services
  • to continue contact arrangements were a child’s parents live separately
  • for ministers to go to their place of worship
  • to move house where reasonably necessary
  • to avoid injuries, illness, or to escape a risk of harm

Though this is new legislation and there have been little, if no, test cases, the wording strongly suggests that excuses that do not appear in this list, however reasonable they may seem, will not be sufficient to constitute a defence to the charge. Therefore, if you are in doubt, it is recommended that you contact a solicitor who can properly advise you on your position. We are available 24/7 to help, despite the lockdown. 


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