There is something unlawful about thousands of people going to the same beach.
There is no law preventing anyone going to the beach and no law requiring social distancing when you get there. To deal with simple point first and answering the cry “what about social distancing?”, this is guidance only, not law. It is not compulsory as we have set out here.
And then the cry “what about restrictions on gathering?” The answer is in the legal definition of ‘gathering’ in the regulations. It is not a gathering unless people are present together in the same place either (a) in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other; or (b) to undertake any other activity with each other.
The recent protests in London and other cities have been organised and those who have attended have gone with a shared purpose, in order, to socially interact with like-minded citizens and to protest with each other.
By contrast, when individuals or a family go to the beach, they go for individual purpose, not in order to join with others. They go to sit on hot sand, to cool off in the sea, to stare at the horizon for personal pleasure. The social interaction that may occur is, as in the supermarket, secondary. There is other entertainment arising, such as people watching, but this done in the supermarket or in the park, just as it is on a beach.
Beach-goers cannot be assumed to have gone there in order to socially interact or to undertake activities with each other. Many may long for the deserted beach where there is no chance of social interaction at all, thank you very much.
Of course, if, once there, beach goers gather together to play football or cricket on the beach, they may then be crossing the line and breaching the regulations.
A curiosity, perhaps, is that 6 [30 since 4th July] or more people standing in an organised manner in the street i.e. to queuing to do the supermarket shop, may be an unlawful gathering. Once in the shop, the activity is shopping, an individual activity, not ‘with each other’ even if others do the same thing. But is queuing itself not an activity, and one which is by definition done with others? While the regulations provide exemptions for certain gatherings, queuing in the street is not one of them. This may be very technical, but technicalities count when they may be used to prosecute and restrict individual freedoms.
Beach-goers may, arguably, be rather more restricted because gatherings are unlawful but ‘gathering’ has not been defined. The tendency of The Welsh Assembly Government, led by First Minister Mark Drakeford, to impose wider restrictions in Wales is apparent here.
To deal with social distancing, since 7 April 2020, employers and owners of business premises have been required to enforce 2m distancing and could be fined, and potentially closed, for not doing so.
This does not, however, apply to public spaces where the 2 metre guidance remains, as in England, guidance only.
In relation to gathering, there is no limit on numbers (6 in England) who may gather together, except that they cannot be from more than two households. So far, so good, for beach-goers but that is not the end of the matter.
Not so good is that the Wales regulations do not include a definition of ‘gathering’. It is simply that gatherings, other than from more than two households, are unlawful. Although the explanatory note to the regulations suggests that gatherings are permitted with a ‘reasonable excuse’, the list of example of reasonable excuses is set out within regulation 8 but only in relation to leaving the area ‘local’ to home (which guidance promotes as usually 5 miles). There is no reference to a ‘reasonable excuse’ exemption within regulation 8B which restricts gatherings with a very broad sweep indeed, the sort of which might be challenged in judicial review proceedings if there is an attempt to enforce it.
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.