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Judges overturn conviction for refusal to give name and address in case of suspected Covid regulations breach

The Administrative Court has ruled that a man was entitled to refuse to give his name and address to a police officer who wanted to issue a fixed penalty notice for breach of lockdown regulations.

Law firm Bindmans said the judgment could potentially to action for false imprisonment over arrests made under the pandemic regulations.

Its client Keith Neale’s conviction was quashed in what it called “an important judgment on the right to silence, the legal duties of citizens and the operation of coronavirus regulations”.

Mrs Justice Steyn and Lord Justice Dingemans held that Newport Magistrates’ Court erred in distinguishing Mr Neale’s case from Rice v Connolly and in finding him guilty of wilfully obstructing a police constable by declining to give his name and address.

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On 23 April 2020 Mr Neale had gone into Newport City Centre to take a key worker friend’s car for an MOT test.

He was sitting on a bench waiting for the test result when police community support officers asked him why he was there and required his name and address to issue a fixed penalty notice.

Mr Neale refused and a police officer was called. When he again refused he was arrested and taken to a police station and prosecuted for leaving home without reasonable excuse and obstructing a police officer.

Magistrates acquitted him of leaving home without reasonable excuse as he was homeless at the time and taking a key worker’s car for an MOT test was a reasonable excuse.

They did though convict him of obstructing a police constable implying a duty to give details to the police because the pandemic regulations would otherwise be rendered inoperable.

Quashing Mr Neale’s conviction, the High Court found he had been under no common law obligation to give the police his name and address and the right to silence was not reserved only for the innocent and those beyond suspicion.

Judges found the right to remain silent was an important part of the law and said an obligation to give a name and address to the police would engage Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court concluded that the absence of an express obligation to give a name and address in the coronavirus regulations “powerfully demonstrates that it does not exist”, Bindmans said.

The firm said: “Mr Neale’s case raises serious questions about the enforcement of coronavirus regulations and may have implications for some others who have been issued fixed penalty notices by the police and/or prosecuted for offences under the regulations.”

This was because Mr Neale did not place anyone at risk when he sat on the bench lawfully waiting for an MOT result and it was “clear that some police officers have misunderstood and misstated their powers, and citizens’ obligations, under the regulations and at common law”.

Bindmans said the case also confirmed there were reasonable excuses for being outside not limited to those explicitly set out in the regulations.

Police officers should give proper consideration to any explanation given by members of the public - and what a court might think of them - rather than only recognising those exceptions explicitly listed in the regulations or government guidance.

“Failure to do so could, in certain circumstances, lead to litigation including for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment,” Bindmans said.

Bindmans said it told the Crown Prosecution Service that Mr Neale had been homeless at the time of the alleged offences – “and yet the prosecution was not discontinued, necessitating the attendance of all parties at court during the pandemic”.

It said this raised “serious questions remain about the thousands of fixed penalty notices issued by police officers and prosecutions brought under the single justice procedure where suspects/defendants might never have had legal representation”.

Tom Wainwright of Garden Court Chambers appeared for Mr Neale.

Mark Smulian

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