Coronavirus / Criminal penalties

Coronavirus: Criminal penalties

This information was correct as of 13 May 2020, but is subject to possible changes.

Unless otherwise stated, this page sets out the law and guidance which is applicable in England only.

Can I be charged with a criminal offence?

Yes, because these regulations create new criminal offences. So it’s now against the law to:

  • leave your home or be outside of your home without a reasonable excuse
  • gather in a public place with more than one person from outside your household (unless for one of these exceptions)
  • obstruct a person who is enforcing the regulations
  • defy directions by police to return to where you are living.

But crucially, it is not an offence if you have a reasonable excuse for doing any of the above.

What are the punishments?

If you’re 18 or over, and the police reasonably believe you have committed an offence under the new regulations, you will most likely be given a ‘fixed penalty notice’ (a fine). If so, you will be offered the option of paying a fine to the local council in order to avoid any further action.

On 13 May, the Government increased  the amount of money you can be fined. They say that this is to reflect the increased risk to others of breaking the rules now that they are easing the lockdown.

The fine will now be £100, payable within 28 days – or only £50 if paid within 14 days. If you pay the fine within 28 days, you won’t be prosecuted for a criminal offence. If you don’t pay it, you might have to go to court.

If you later commit a second offence under these regulations, the fine will now increase to £200. It will then double every time you are caught again (and this is now capped at £3,200 for the sixth offence onwards.)

There is no formal right of appeal in the regulations, but councils can set up an appeals procedure if they wish to. So if you disagree that you have broken the law, look at the fixed penalty notice to see if it mentions this.

If there’s no way of appealing, you can challenge the fixed penalty notice by going to court. But if you are convicted, you may have to pay a higher level of fine and will have a criminal record. If you are found not guilty, you won’t.

It’s also possible that instead of fining you, the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may charge you directly with a criminal offence. You would then have to go to court.

Can I go to prison for breaking these rules?

No. All the new offences are “non recordable” offences, which do not come with prison sentences.

This also means that the offences are unlikely to be recorded on the Police National Computer (although it is possible that they could be.)

If you’d like more information about your criminal record and DBS checks, contact us.

What should I do if I’m charged with a criminal offence?

You should seek the advice of a criminal law solicitor if you have been:

  • arrested
  • asked to go to the police station for a voluntary interview
  • charged with a criminal offence.

Getting advice from a solicitor will not make you look guilty. The solicitor will explain your rights and help you understand the criminal process.

You can get free legal advice if you are questioned at a police station. Get help finding a solicitor.

If you need further advice about your rights, contact us.

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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