Which coronavirus (COVID-19) offences are local authorities in England authorised to prosecute?

Which coronavirus (COVID-19) offences are local authorities in England authorised to prosecute?

Produced in partnership with Philip Rule

This question is answered in relation to the law applying in England, given the separate regimes for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The answer only relates to the powers of local authorities to prosecute, not with the separate matter of who may issue fixed penalty notices, or take other enforcement measures (save for those within the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No 3) Regulations 2020, SI 2020/750 (the Third Regulations), considered below).

The principal regulations providing for offences relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions contain, or have contained, identical provisions that ‘proceedings for an offence under these Regulations may be brought by the Crown Prosecution Service and any person designated by the Secretary of State’ (currently, this is contained within the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No 4) Regulations 2020 (the Fourth Regulations), SI 2020/1200, reg 22. As far as prosecutions under the previous regulations are concerned, a corresponding provision is contained in each of the tier-level and earlier national regulations issued over the course of 2020, save for the third set of regulations addressed below.

By the Fourth Regulations, SI 2020/1200, reg 26(1), designations made or treated as made by the Secretary of State in exercise of the designation powers in certain previous regulations are to be treated as if they had been made under the Fourth Regulations, SI 2020/1200. There is a chain of such designations being ‘carried forward’ across regulations since the first coronavirus restriction regulations to ensure continuity of the power to prosecute for offences committed under the former regulations prior to the coming into force of the Fourth Regulations, SI 2020/1200 on 5 November 2020.

Designation letter

 

The relevant designations have been made in a number of ‘designation letters’, all of which are helpfully published by the Institute of Licensing at here. The most recent designation letter appears to be, as at the date of this Q&A, dated 16 June 2020 and made in exercise of power under the the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, SI 2020/350. The relevant gov.uk page, most recently updated 5 November 2020, also still points to the 16 June 2020 letter. It may, of course, be that a more recent Designation Letter has been issued to local authorities but not publicised.

By paragraph 5 of the Designation letter, a specified authority is a district council, county council, London borough council, the Common Council of the City of London, and the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

Taking into account the ‘carrying forward’ provisions in the Fourth Regulations, SI 2020/1200, noted above, local authorities are and continue to be authorised to prosecute coronavirus offences relating to premises and business closures, obstruction, failures to comply with prohibition notices, and offences by body corporate.

They are not, however, authorised to prosecute other coronavirus offences relating to, for example, restrictions on leaving home or restrictions on gatherings under the current Fourth Regulations SI 2020/1200, Pts 23.

Separate regime for the Third Regulations

 

It is worth also noting that the Third Regulations, SI 2020/750, which from 1 June 2020 gave additional powers to local authorities to restrict access to or close individual premises, and public outdoor places, and prohibit events from taking place, have a slightly different prosecution regime. This applies to offences under those regulations, for example acting in breach of directions given under those regulations, of specific provisions within the regulations.

By the Third Regulations, SI 2020/750, reg 15, ‘proceedings for an offence under these Regulations may be brought by a local authority, the Crown Prosecution Service and any person designated by the Secretary of State (but this does not affect any other power to bring proceedings for such an offence)’. ‘Local authority’ is defined in the Third Regulations, SI 2020/750, reg 1(4) as a county council in England, a district council where there is no county council, a London borough council, the Common Council of the City of London, and the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

Thus, for offences contrary to the Third Regulations, SI 2020/750, local authorities do not need to rely on a Secretary of State designation as their authority to prosecute.

For a summary of key corporate offences created under the various Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) regulations, see Practice Note: Coronavirus (COVID-19)—key corporate offences created under emergency health protection regulations.

Related Articles:
Latest Articles: