National low mood – a ‘reasonable excuse’ to ignore Covid restrictions and guidance

Fiction:

Anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses are side-effects of lockdown restrictions that we all just have to put up with.

Law:

If lockdown is causing or likely to cause you mental or physical injury or illness, this will be a reasonable excuse to exempt you in large part from the restrictions.

Take the restriction on leaving home as an example.

A key immediate restriction from 26 March 2020 was that no person could leave their home without “reasonable excuse”.  While need for a ‘reasonable excuse’ remains, the extent of the restriction has been lessened gradually from ‘leaving the place they are living’ (26 March), to ‘stay overnight at any place other than the place where they are living’ (since 1 June). (There are further relaxations by reference to ‘linked households’ for single parents.)

The regulations gives a list of excuses that will be deemed reasonable, but do not suggest these are the only excuses that would be reasonable.  Nevertheless, within the list, to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies, was the most well known.

Perhaps least well known was the last item in the list, which has been present from the start: to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

What constitutes ‘injury or illness’ may be subject to legal argument in due course, but if a doctor would diagnose anxiety, that would most certainly be an injury.  If someone is on the verge of suffering anxiety because of the restriction, one might expect this is just when this reasonable excuse arises.

This reasonable excuse also applies an exemption to restrictions on numbers of people that can gather together, where the gathering is reasonably necessary to enable one or more persons in the gathering to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

The significance of being excused from restrictions because of the need to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm is worthy of focus and debate.  This excuse has been considered important enough to require the support of an express law.  It must follow, surely, that all guidance is required to be interpreted with regard to the same excuse and consideration of this issue is not limited to restrictions on movement.  It is pervasive across all aspects of the restrictions during the emergency period.

Where a local authority, police officer, controller of premises or employer or other person seeking to enforce the restriction is faced with a citizen who asserts this reasonable excuse, an assessment may need to be made as to whether the assertion is likely to be true.  This may be difficult to assess on the spot, even if the would-be enforcer happened to be a doctor.  Is the sceptical enforcer prepared to risk causing more anxiety by challenging, or even accusing the citizen of lying, without proper justification for doing so?  Where the illness is sufficient to be a ‘disability’ within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, unlawful discrimination is also likely to arise as a result of such challenges.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, regulation 6 and 7 and schedule 1, part 2

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In Wales, on the particular example of the restriction on leaving the home, this has been changed to “the area local to the place where they are living” and they may not remain away from that area.  However, as in England, the list of reasonable excuses still includes to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.  So if staying in the local area is causing or likely to cause you injury or illness, you do not have to stay in that local area.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 regulation 8 and schedule 1, part 2

 

Warning: Law and circumstances can change very quickly.  Please note the date of publication of any blog post and check for any updates on the issues addressed. In any event, we do not condone or encourage breaching the law and neither the above nor any information posted on this website constitutes legal advice. It must not be relied upon as such and specialist legal advice should be taken in relation to specific circumstances. Please read our disclaimer.

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2 thoughts on “National low mood – a ‘reasonable excuse’ to ignore Covid restrictions and guidance”

  1. I have severe mental health struggles. If at any point someone were to insist I had a test for Covid, can I refuse? Even the thought of the tests – nasal, throat and blood fills me with extreme anxiety. Thank you for your help.

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