30.In April 2020 Dame Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, set out the approach to policing the pandemic as “to engage, explain, encourage and, only if absolutely necessary, enforce and this seems to be working well.” This approach is known as the “Four Es”. Assistant Chief Constable Owen Weatherill of the National Police Coordination Centre (the NPoCC) further described the Four Es as “a core element that underpins all the guidance that we push out to officers”. The police have some discretion, as they do with other matters, as to whether a person breaching lockdown restrictions should be issued with an FPN or whether they should be given advice or a warning, but must use this discretion within the law.
31.In evidence to us, ACC Weatherill cited statistics to demonstrate that the police dealt with the majority of cases through engaging, explaining and encouraging. Of around 74,000 interactions with members of the public, British Transport Police (BTP) issued only 173 FPNs (0.2%). Chief Constable Harrington, Public Order and Public Safety Lead and the National Police Chiefs Council (the NPCC) also provided statistics for Essex, where 929 FPNs have been issued from over 37,000 interactions (2.5%). This is an encouraging pattern, suggesting the four Es have been used effectively with police successfully managing most interactions without resorting to a penalty. However, equivalent statistics are not in the public domain for most other forces and the BTP’s remit means they are perhaps likely to come across different types of breaches to other forces.
32.On 20 April, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), published a report analysing the police response to the covid-19 pandemic in 2020. This report found that “all forces adopted the Four Es approach” but noted that officers “found it difficult to explain, engage and encourage when faced with the large number of changes.” Gracie Bradley, Interim Director of Liberty raised concerns about how well the four Es model was being followed:
“In Liberty’s view, the four Es model is very good in principle. From what we have seen, it has not worked hugely well in practice. It has not been applied consistently across forces”.
33.The NPCC publishes monthly statistics on the use of FPNs under coronavirus Regulations which showed that 85,975 FPNs were issued in England between 27 March 2020 and 14 March 2021. Unsurprisingly, most FPNs have been issued in periods of national lockdown when restrictions have been tightest.
34.The police have issued significantly more FPNs later in the pandemic than in the beginning. Around 55% of the total FPNs issued during the pandemic up to 14 March were recorded as being given out between 17 January and 14 March 2021. This may in part reflect lessening compliance from a public fatigued with the restrictions, but may also reflect the shift in approach set out in the statement by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, that police would start moving faster to enforcement action, including FPNs, at the start of this year:
“It is preposterous to me that anyone could be unaware of our duty to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus. We have been clear that those who breach Covid-19 legislation are increasingly likely to face fines. We will still be engaging, explaining and encouraging but those who break the rules or refuse to comply where they should without good reason will find officers moving much more quickly to enforcement action.”
35.Martin Hewitt, Chair of the NPCC also implied that while the ‘Four Es’ are still being followed, officers would be moving to enforcement faster than they may have previously with those who breach the coronavirus Regulations:
“While we are still following our 4 E model of engage, explain, encourage and only using enforcement as a last resort, officers are not getting into a debate or discussion with [a small number of completely defiant and irresponsible] people about what the rules are or whether they are necessary. We all know we must wear a face covering in a shop or on a bus and we all know we can’t meet up in groups.”
36.The number of FPNs issued by the police in England was at its highest during the January-March 2021 lockdown. We hope that the police are still engaging, explaining and encouraging rather than moving quickly on to issuing fines which can penalise and potentially criminalise a wide range of behaviour.
37.Local authorities may designate a “relevant person” to enforce compliance with restrictions on businesses, such as ensuring customers wear face coverings, and closing non-essential venues. The Government expanded these powers in December 2020 “to support local authorities’ efforts to maintain COVID-secure environments in their area”. “Relevant persons” designated by local authorities cannot issue FPNs for any other offences. The Secretary of State also has the power to designate an individual to enforce the Regulations, but this power does not seem to have been used.
38.The NPCC publish regular statistics on how many FPNs are issued by police forces under the coronavirus Regulations. There is no equivalent data we are aware of available on the number of FPNs issued by local authorities. The lack of data on the use of these powers is unacceptable. In order to understand the impact of the enforcement of the coronavirus Regulations on businesses and the people who own, work at, or visit them, local authorities must publish data on the number of FPNs issued by individuals to whom they have designated powers. The data should be collated by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and published regularly.
30 . The NPCC also published an explainer of the January lockdown regulations which outlines the four Es model: College of Policing, NPCC, , 20 January 2021
32 . -It was not specified over what period these interactions had tad taken place.
33 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, , 20 April 2021.
35 National Police Chiefs’ Council , 25 March 2021
37 National Police Chiefs’ Council, , 25 February 2021
38 Department of Health and Social Care, Guidance—, 4 December 2020
39 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020, (), Regulation 9, paragraph (9)(b)(iii) and (1) and regulation 11, paragraphs (9)(a)(iv) and (10), which is now found in The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 (), Regulations 10 and 12.
40 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020, (), Regulation 11 paragraph 9(a)(iii). PQ [on Coronavirus: Fines], 12 March 2021; which is now found in The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 (), Regulation 12.