LEGAL EAGLE: I've been fined for non-essential shopping. What can I do?

Q: The other day I went to the shop for bread. When I got there I couldn’t get any but I bought a candle and a picture frame. As I was leaving the police stopped and asked to look in my bags.

Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 12:00 am
A general view of someone carrying their shopping back to the car at the supermarket.

They asked me what I had bought and when I told them they gave me a fine for buying non-essential shopping. I don’t feel like I should have to pay this, I have followed all of the lockdown rules. What can I do?

A: The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020 is the new law governing those living in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic. The law came into force on 26 March 2020 and sets out the rules and restrictions for the ‘lockdown’ announced by the government on 23 March.

The law has already been amended numerous times. The first consideration is timing. Any individual leaving their house for whatever reason before 26 March has not committed a crime under this law. From 26 March onwards, no person is permitted to leave the place they are living without a ‘reasonable excuse’. Anyone outside without a reasonable excuse can be issued with a fixed penalty notice (fine), although this should be a last resort and police should try and encourage people to go home instead. A reasonable excuse can be

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the need to obtain food and other ‘essential’ items.

The law changed again on 22 April and now applies not only to why you leave your house but why you stay outside. This means that between 26 March and 22 April you have done nothing legally wrong by going out to purchase bread and instead buying other items. After 22 April the situation is not as clear but there could be an argument that you have a defence depending on the particular circumstances.

The next consideration is whether police have any power to check your shopping and decide whether items are ‘essential’. It is very important to note that the new law does not give police powers to search your shopping but police do have some limited powers to search you under existing law in very particular circumstances.

The new law does not define what is ‘essential’ shopping and this will depend entirely on the individual facts of each case. The fixed penalty notice should include details of how you can contest it. If you require further advice on this please contact Ben Hoare Bell LLP on 0191 565 3112 or email [email protected] Visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk for further information.