Coronavirus / Criminal penalties
Coronavirus: Criminal penalties
This information was correct as of 14 December 2020, but is subject to possible changes.
Unless otherwise stated, this page sets out the law and guidance which applies 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:
- breach a Tier 1 restriction, a Tier 2 restriction or a Tier 3 restriction
- obstruct a person who is enforcing the regulations
- defy directions by police, such as when they tell you to go home or tell you to leave a gathering.
But crucially, it is not an offence if you have a reasonable excuse for doing any of the above.
It is also a criminal offence to:
- ‘incite’ others to commit one of the offences above, for example by inviting people to a party
- threaten someone with infection by coronavirus, for example by coughing or spitting at them.
These are pre-existing offences and are not contained specifically within the coronavirus regulations.
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.
For most of the offences, the fine is £200, payable within 28 days – or only £100 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 be prosecuted and have to go to court.
If you later commit a second offence under these regulations and are given a second fixed penalty notice, the fine increases to £400. It will then double every time you are given a fixed penalty notice for breaching the regulations (and this is capped at £6,400 for the sixth offence onwards.)
The fine for organising an illegal gathering is £10,000, payable within 28 days. As above, if you don’t pay the fine within 28 days, you might be prosecuted for a criminal offence and have to go to court.
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 do not think you have broken the law, look at the fixed penalty notice to see if it mentions this.
If there’s no way of appealing, and you do not pay the fine within 28 days and are prosecuted for a criminal offence under the regulations, you can seek to defend yourself at the Magistrates’ 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.
Alternatively, you could try to challenge the fixed penalty notice by a process known as ‘judicial review’, where a High Court judge would be asked to decide whether or not the police acted lawfully in issuing the fine. If the judge decided that the police did not act lawfully, then the fine would be cancelled. But if they decided that the police did act lawfully, then the fine would still stand, and you would either need to pay it or risk being prosecuted for a criminal offence.
Judicial review is a complex legal claim and you should get advice from a solicitor if you are considering this.
It’s also possible that instead of fining you, the police or 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. They are only punishable by fines.
This also means that the offences are unlikely to be recorded on the Police National Computer (although it is possible that they could be.)
What should I do if I’m charged with a criminal offence?
You should seek the advice of a criminal defence solicitor if you have been:
- 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.
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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