PSNI officers will use discretion in enforcing emergency coronavirus powers
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) says its officers “will apply their discretion” in enforcing the new Coronavirus Bill Emergency Powers.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “We will continue to police with the cooperation of our community providing the best possible service to the public, while also rightly protecting our officers and staff.”
He said officers will use the new dispersal powers to protect the health of the public and will do so using a four-phase approach:
- Engage with the public to encourage voluntary compliance;
- Explain why dispersal is vital to reduce the spread of the virus;
- Encourage people to disperse; and
- Enforce where necessary when people do not listen and put others at risk. This will only be done when it is absolutely necessary.
“Officers will apply their discretion and will ask questions to establish individual circumstances. We will instruct people to return home if they do not have a reasonable excuse to be out of their house,” said Mr Byrne.
“Our aim is to encourage and support the public to fully comply with these necessary restrictions. We have no desire to use the formal emergency policing powers now available but it is right that we can if necessary enforce against those who disregard the measures and put their own health and the health of other people at risk.”
He said the public would also notice a change of police style and approach at tourist locations and local open areas to encourage people to adhere to the regulations.
The PSNI put the new coronavirus emergency powers into force from 11pm on Saturday (March 28) “to protect the health of our community as together we battle the Covid-19 global pandemic”.
The Northern Ireland Executive agreed to adopt the powers in response to what it said was “the very serious and imminent threat to public health posed by the virus”.
The emergency legislation has been introduced to enforce the closing of certain businesses and venues; require people to stay at home; enforce social distancing; and to stop all public gatherings of more than two people.
“The new powers mean that if a person commits an offence of failing to comply with any such direction or restriction imposed on them without reasonable excuse, officers will consider an appropriate disposal. That may initially be advice and guidance or a Community Resolution Notice (CRN),” said Mr Byrne.
“However, if required police will enforce this legislation and issue a penalty notice of £60. The issuance of a PND (Penalty Notice for Disorder) in the first instance is not in itself a criminal offence – the police do not want to criminalise people, we simply want to ensure that people follow the regulations.
“For those who continue to disregard the Northern Ireland Executive directions, the fine can be doubled each time and summary prosecution can be sought for those who refuse to pay or comply. The £60 fine can fall to £30 if paid within 14 days. If a person has already received a fixed penalty notice, the amount will increase to £120 and double on each further repeat offence.
Mr Byrne said the PSNI was working in partnership with the Northern Ireland Executive Office, the Department of Health and agencies across the public sector, including health service workers, to jointly fight the spread of the virus.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “These are extraordinary powers for any government to have to introduce, but we are living in extraordinary times.
“We know the enormity of what we are asking of the public, but it is proportionate to the threat we all face from this deadly virus. No one is immune.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “Protecting the public, supporting the health service and saving lives are the priorities for the Executive during this crisis.
“As an Executive, we don’t want to get to the stage where people are being fined for being out when they should be at home. But if anyone – even after everything they have heard or seen over the last few weeks – still believes that this does not apply to them, then we will use every power we have to ensure people stay at home so that we save as many lives as we possibly can.”