Covid regulations accused had right of silence

A person suspected of breaching the coronavirus regulations is not required by law to give the police their name and address, an appeal has ruled. Keith Neale, a 60-year-old homeless man, had his conviction for obstructing a police officer by failing to give his details quashed, by the High Court sitting in Cardiff.

In an important judgment on the legal duties of citizens under the coronavirus regulations Mrs Justice Steyn and Lord Justice Dingemans ruled that Neale was under no common law obligation or statutory duty to give the police his name and address.

Almost a third of prosecutions made under the coronavirus regulations have been wrongly brought, leading to hundreds of cases being dropped. The latest figures from the Crown Prosecution Service showed that 359 of 1,252 charges last year were either withdrawn or quashed in court. All 232 prosecutions brought under the Coronavirus Act 2020 were flawed, and a further 127 wrongful charges were brought under the Health Protection Regulations.

Neale had been found guilty at Newport Magistrates’ Court of wilfully obstructing a police constable by declining to give his name and address when he was approached sitting on a city centre bench. The court implied a duty to give details to the police under the Coronavirus Regulations because the regulations would otherwise be rendered inoperable.

Patrick Ormerod, the solicitor at Bindmans who acted for Neale, said: 'As the High Court stated, the courts should be wary of expanding police powers by implication – where parliament has chosen to compel speech it has done so expressly. The absence of an express obligation to give a name and address in the Coronavirus Regulations powerfully demonstrates that it does not exist.'

He added: 'There is no general common law duty to assist the police by answering questions and a person cannot be guilty of wilfully obstructing a police officer by declining to do so where there is no specific legal duty.'