Coronavirus / Criminal penalties

Coronavirus: Criminal penalties

This information was correct as of  14 September 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:

  • gather in a group of more than six people (unless one of the exceptions applies)
  • organise a gathering of more than 30 people in a private home or public outdoor space (unless one of the exceptions applies)
  • enter or stay in an area which has been specified as a restricted area unless you have a reasonable excuse
  • obstruct a person who is enforcing the regulations
  • defy directions by police to leave a gathering or a restricted area.

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

The police can’t arrest or fine you just for being outside of your home without “reasonable excuse” anymore and they can’t fine you for not following government guidance.

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 £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 increases to £200. It will then double every time you are caught again (and this is capped at £3,200 for the sixth offence onwards.)

For the offence of organising an illegal gathering, the fine is £10,000, payable within 28 days. As above, if you don’t pay the fine within 28 days, you might 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 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.)

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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