Al Asad Md. Mahfuzul Islam
Countries across the planet have severely been challenged by COVID-19. The catastrophic choices of life, death, and economy have been circulating since the beginning of 2020. The governments take initiative, change it, and adapt it time and again with the changing circumstances of Coronavirus. To stop spreading, staying at home, social distancing, home quarantine, isolation are still the golden rules. To implement these rules, governments in many countries face several social and legal challenges. Consequently, to overcome these challenges, many countries enact emergency health provisions, empowering health officials, public servants, including police officers. This article analyzes few emergency health laws and provisions that are already in place in different jurisdictions concerning police powers. The United Kingdom enacted Coronavirus act, Ireland amended health acts and made new regulations, France promulgated emergency bill, Australia gazetted public orders, and Canada coordinated quarantine act and national implementation guidelines.
UK and Coronavirus Bill
The Government of the United Kingdom has made new public health regulations (UK Public General Acts, 2020 c. 7)(SCHEDULE 22) with the view to strengthening police enforcement powers, reducing the spread of coronavirus, and protecting National Health Service on 26 March 2020. To ensure stay at home and avoid non-essential travel guidelines of the government, if any member of the public does not comply, the police are empowered and instructed or disperse any person of places. Most importantly, police are empowered to issue a fixed penalty notice of 60 Pound and if it is paid in 14 days, the penalty will be lowered to 30 pounds. For second-time offenders, it will be doubled and will be doubling on each further repeat offense. And finally, if any individuals who do not comply with these police penalty regulations, police are empowered to bring him or her in court so that magistrates can impose unlimited fines. It is also recorded here that police will always apply their common sense and discretion. As per the Coronavirus Act 2020, in the enforcement part, it is laid down in section 43 that ‘(1)compliance with a direction issued under this Part of this Schedule may be enforced by—(a)a constable;(b)any other person, or description of a person, designated in writing for this paragraph by the Executive Office. (2)In exercising the power of enforcement conferred by sub-paragraph (1), a person may—(a) enter any premises;(b)if necessary, use reasonable force.’
Regarding these new emergency health regulations, Home Secretary Priti Patel said, The Prime Minister has been clear on what we need to do: stay at home to protect our NHS and save lives. All our frontline services are the best of us and are doing an incredible job to stop this terrible virus from spreading. That’s why I’m giving the police these new enforcement powers, to protect the public and keep people safe.
Australia and Public Orders
Australia has made tougher provisions, empowering police to fines with large amounts. In line with central provisions, Provinces made non-contradictory provisions. For Example, New South Wales has made public orders (Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales, Gazette No 57 of 25 March 2020) allowing Police to issue fine of up to $11,000 or six months’ imprisonment for those who leave the home without a reasonable excuse, plus an additional $5,500 fine each day the offense continues. Fines for business organizations are even higher. It appears it will be left to police officers’ discretion who will receive a fine. For anybody who is outside their house, they can only be with one other person unless they’re part of your immediate family or are housemates.
Ireland and Emergency Health Measures, Acts, and Regulations
The Irish Times reported that PM orders lockdown with police fines for ignoring new measures. In Ireland Police Force is popularly known as Garda Síochána. As per the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (Number 1 of 2020), the Amendment of Act of 1947 is quite relevant with emerging police powers in relating to public health. It is worth mentionable in the subsequent sections:
(7) A member of the Garda Síochána who suspects, with reasonable cause, that a person is contravening or has contravened a provision of a regulation made under subsection (1) that is stated to be a penal provision, may ensure compliance with the regulation, direct the person to take such steps as the member considers necessary to comply with the provision. (9) A member of the Garda Síochána who has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is committing or has committed an offense under this section may require the person to state his or her name and address. (10) A person who fails or refuses to state his or her name and address in compliance with a requirement under subsection (9), or who, in purported compliance with such a requirement, states a name or address that is false or misleading, shall be guilty of an offense. (11) A member of the Garda Síochána may arrest without warrant any person whom the member has reasonable cause for believing has committed an offense under subsection (10).
Having consulted with the Minister for Finance, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Minister for Health made the Health Act 1947 (Section 3lA – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 on April 07, 2020.
On the new law and regulations, BBC reported that Gardaí (Irish police) have been granted powers to enforce restrictions on public life to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Furthermore, it is quoted here Simon Harris, the Irish Health Minister “The Irish people are being super, but the gardaí must have these powers in their back pocket so that if they do need enforcement powers, they have them.”
Canada and Corona
Canada is resilient to control COVID-19. So many initiatives and measures are there. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in a press release on April 10, 2020, informed Canadians that the Public health Agency of Canada (PHAC) requested Police Agencies across Canada, to implement Quarantine Act. In the press release, it is also candidly described ‘Violating or failing to comply with the Quarantine Act could have significant penalties, including fines and imprisonment. Maximum penalties include a fine of up to $750,000 and/or imprisonment for six months for failure to comply with this Order. Further, a person who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while willfully or recklessly contravening this Act or the regulations could be liable for a fine of up to $1,000,000 or imprisonment of up to three years, or to both.’ Without contradiction, it is hereby announced that Police agencies are empowered to issue significant fines, penalties, imprisonment. Quoting RCMP Commissioner, Global News reported that arrests would be a last resort, based on the circumstance and the officer’s risk assessment. Instead, police can issue those charged with a notice or summons requiring them to appear in court. The Public Safety Announcement and RCMP Press add clarity to questions about Police is responsible for enforcing the Canadian Quarantine act. Police in Canada issued more than hundreds of fines and even apprehended some people for violating quarantine orders or social distancing rules.
France and New Bill
To cope with Covid-19, France promulgated stricter Emergency Bill to address Covid-19 Epidemic (Emergency Law No. 2020-290 of March 23, 2020). This bill gives government special powers to restrict people’s freedom of movement, ban meetings, and businesses. The online French 24 informed us the bill provides for tougher penalties for French nationals who fail to comply with the confinement. The first fine for violating the rules is €135. This could go up to €1,500 in the event of a repeat offense “within 15 days”. In the case of “four violations within 30 days”, the offense will be “punishable by a fine of €3,700 and a maximum of six months in prison”. Tristam Hicks, police consultant, in his article ‘Certificate of Movement: How France is policing the lockdown’ in Policing Insight Online Platform, opined In the first week of the new law, French police issued less than 100,000 fines and arrested five people, who presumably, badly failed the aptitude test. In a country with tens of millions of people that seems like a minimal enforcement rate.
In conclusion, many countries and their governments conjure up to countermeasures to win over the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 promulgated bill, enacted acts, made regulations, and public orders to contain the coronavirus. Police along with doctors, nurses, and public health actors are at the forefront and relevantly they are empowered with new laws, motivated with benefits, and inspired by patriotism. Though legal scholars and human rights activists are raising a few rhetoric questions, they cannot show any new alternatives without empowering police across the planet. As police agencies across the world put right to policing the pandemic, Terry Goldsworthy, Assistant Professor Robyn Lincoln from Bond University, in his analysis ‘Covid-19: The role the Australian Police are playing in the battle against the Coronavirus’ commented Given the uncertainty and the ever-changing situation facing us all, policing needs to be agile and flexible in its response to the needs of society and the demands of governments. Our law enforcement agencies will perform a critical role in combating the virus and ensuring public safety. With these new laws, regulations, discretion, and common sense, Hope will be Reborn.
Writer : Additional SP
PHQ Media Wing.