Coronavirus – You and Your Dog

Everyone knows we are in unique situation restrictions that have been in put place today to stop the spread of Covid-19 that are the most onerous restrictions in recent times. Many people seem confused about what they can and cannot do especially where exercise or dog walking is concerned. This is an attempt to bring clarity, although there is a still uncertainty and you must use your own judgment

First the overriding restriction is;  ‘no-one should leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse’ The problems arise because there are then some exceptions listed as follows:

1. To obtain basic necessities this includes food for your household or a vulnerable person. It includes pet food and medicines and supplies for essential upkeep or maintenance of your house. Finally, it covers going to the bank, or similar place to obtain cash.
2. To take exercise either alone or with members of your household.
3. To seek medical assistance.
4. To provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person.
5. To donate blood.
6. To travel to work or to provide charitable or voluntary service where it is not reasonably possible to do that from home.
7. To attend the funeral of a member of your household or close family member. If you are a friend, you may only attend where neither of the above can attend.
8. To fulfil a legal obligation such as participating in court proceedings, for example if you are on bail.
9. To access critical public services such as childcare, social services, the Department of Work and Pensions or Social Services, or services provided to victims.
10. Where children who do not live in the same household as one parent you may leave your home to take your child to its other parent.
11. A Minister of Religion may attend their place of work.
12. To move to a new house where reasonably necessary.
13. To avoid illness or injury or escape harm.

It is now an offence punishable with a fine if you do not have a reasonable excuse. The list is extensive but not exhaustive the problems arise with the definition of ‘reasonable excuse’.
It is also an offence to obstruct someone who is carrying out their duties under the regulation.

It has been said in social media that the Police have banned people from travelling, this is not true, the Police can only enforce the law as set out by Parliament. The College of Policing have issued guidance to police as to how they should approach issue.

There are four stages: –

Engage –  officers will initially encourage voluntary compliance. this is intended to bring about voluntary compliance.
Explain – officers will stress the risks to public health and to the NHS. Educate people about the risks and the wider social factors.
Encourage – officers will seek compliance and emphasise the benefits to the NHS by staying at home, how this can save lives and reduce risk for more vulnerable people in society.
Enforce – officers will direct individuals to return to the place where they live. This may include providing reasonable instruction of the route by which the person is required to return. Officers may also remove that person to the place where they live, using reasonable force where it is a necessary and proportionate means of ensuring compliance. Officers will make sensible decisions, employ their judgement and continue to use other powers.

The new regulations encourage police to keep an inquisitive and questioning mindset and consider that it might not be safe for everyone to be at home. Officers should consider if there are any safeguarding aspects at play, such as domestic abuse, child abuse or mental health. If safeguarding issues are at play, officers should not follow legislation and revert to normal processes for dealing with vulnerable people.
Enforcement will be a last resort.

Enforcement is by issuing a Fixed Penalty Notice of £120 which is reduced to £60 if paid within 14 days. The amount will double for every subsequent breach. This is not a criminal conviction.
That is not to say that if the police jump straight to enforcement you do not have to pay. The police will assess any situation and apply the guidance accordingly. However, the police do have the power to arrest someone without a warrant if they are committing or about to commit an offence. Needless to say, it is hoped that this is a very last resort and is not referred to in the Guidance issue by the College of policing
If you do not pay you will be summons to the Magistrates Court and given an opportunity to explain your reasonable excuse.

The question therefore is, what is a reasonable excuse if it isn’t in the list? In particular this arises in relation to taking exercise and dog walking. This has arisen over the past seven days because of the mild spring weather with numerous people have travelling to beauty spots to exercise.
As you might expect what is or is not reasonable is a complicated matter. In English and Welsh criminal law it is whether the excuse put forward is reasonable in the eyes of an ordinary member of the public. Helpful isn’t it? It does not matter what you consider to be reasonable it is what others looking at all the circumstances of case consider to be reasonable.
Government Guidance has indicated that a reasonable excuse will not include travelling to a second or holiday or going to a caravan site.

Is it reasonable to travel to exercise or walk your dog? This will be a matter of fact and degree. Clearly travelling from Edinburgh to Snowdon will not be as you pass a variety of other suitable places that you can take advantage of.
Can you travel, by car, to your local park or similar place? This is the difficult question, and everyone must always make their own decision. It may be capable of amounting to a reasonable excuse if there is nowhere else for you to exercise, for example you live-in built-up area. It may be a reasonable excuse if you are trying to avoid other people. For example, if your usual walking route is busy with other people and wish to avoid them.

Many local authorities closed their local parks due to overuse however as a result of Government comments this week the parks have re-opened, The comments were that public spaces such as parks were a vital place for people to exercise and the Prime Minister has so far rejected calls to close them down. If that is the case this lends support to you being able to travel. However, it must be a reasonable distance, to your nearest park for example. You must still observe all the other rules on social distancing.
Although perhaps not bringing clarity I hope this helps you when making your decision about your exercise and your dog walking.

Remember to always be safe!

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