Police in England have new powers to fine organisers of large gatherings as much as £10,000. In Scotland, police can break up indoor parties involving more than 15 people from three different households.
But what happens to those attending these gatherings and what other powers do the police have?
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Can I hold a party?
In England, the law allows you to meet in a group of up to 30 people outside, or at home (“outside” means any public place – including beaches, parks, streets and the countryside).
In Northern Ireland and Scotland, the limit is 15 people outdoors and in Wales 30 people outdoors.
However, guidance (which is not law) strongly recommends that gatherings should remain as small as possible with a limited number of households – especially if social distancing is difficult.
If you go above the set amount, the police can turn up, force people to leave and even issue fines.
These fines vary between the nations, but in England officers could issue you with a £100 penalty ticket (£50 if paid within 14 days), rising to £3,200 for six or more offences.
Organisers of informal gatherings of more than 30 people in England can also be fined a maximum of £10,000.
This penalty came in after a number of house parties were broken up by police, sometimes violently. Recently, police in Birmingham broke up 70 unlicensed gatherings, including one with a marquee and DJ.
In some cases, larger formally organised gatherings are permitted. However, these are only allowed if the organisers can show they have a plan to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus.
Officers can turn up and inspect the organiser’s written plan. They can order people to leave if they decide there are genuine dangers.
Can police make me cover my face in a shop?
a face covering in shops, supermarkets, transport hubs and shopping centres in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Wales, coverings are mandatory on public transport.
Shop staff and security guards have no formal powers to enforce the wearing of masks in – which means that disputes may need to be resolved by the police.
If police are forced to intervene, shoppers who refuse to cover their face could face a £100 penalty ticket.
It’s also a legal requirement to cover the mouth and nose on public transport in the UK (although some people are exempt).
If you refuse, police officers can issue £100 penalty tickets. The police can also order people off trains and buses – or stop them boarding – as can officers from Transport for London in the capital.
The law also states that there can be good reasons not to wear a mask – such as to assist someone who relies on lip-reading, or for personal identification at a bank.
In England and Wales, up to 17 August, 46 fines had been handed out by police.
Public places like beaches could close
In England, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has an exceptional power to completely close a specific public place.
These could be used to close beaches or beauty spots if there were concerns about crowds potentially spreading the virus.
What if pubs and cafes break the rules?
Pubs, restaurants, hotels, hair salons and other indoor venues are now open in England – but they could still be forced to close if they cannot keep their staff and customers safe.
The Health and Safety Executive can enforce closure if it believes there is a danger – for instance in an overcrowded factory.
Businesses that are open must be able to show they have plans to reduce the risk of transmission – for instance by creating one-way systems around their premises.
If a premises was the source of an outbreak, local public health directors could close it while the virus was tackled. This is a longstanding power that has been used to contain other diseases.
Public health guidance encourages people to continue social distancing.
However, many of the laws (which could have resulted in fines) have now been removed. At the peak of the lockdown it was illegal to leave your home without good reason or – when rules were being relaxed – gathering outside in groups larger than six people.
Up until 17 August, 21,865 fines had been given out in England and Wales, mainly for breaching the ban on unnecessary travel.
However, areas can still be put into local lockdowns. If this happens, new laws can be created.
For example, while a local lockdown is in place, it could be illegal to have small public gatherings in one small part of country but legal everywhere else.