Chief Constable Simon Byrne has outlined how police will put into practice new powers passed by the Northern Ireland Executive on Saturday which aim to enforce people to stay at home unless they have a “reasonable excuse” not to do so.
From 11pm on Saturday, the PSNI assumed the new Coronavirus Bill Emergency Powers to protect the health of the community to we battle the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Said the Chief Constable: “The Northern Ireland Executive agreed to adopt the powers in response to 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.
“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.
“Police 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 this virus; Encourage people to disperse; Enforce where necessary when people do not listen and put others at risk. We will only do this when it is absolutely necessary.
“Each and every one of us has a personal responsibility to follow the NI Executive regulations and do everything we can to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“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.
“From today the public will also notice a change of police style and approach at tourist locations and local open areas to encourage people to adhere to the regulations.
“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.
“The vast majority of the public are following the regulations and I thank you for your support as we deal with this significant challenge. To others who are ignoring the directions the Police Service message is simple, stay at home.
“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).
“However, if required police will enforce this legislation and issue a penalty notice of £60. The issuance of a PND 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 NI 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.
“The Police Service is working in partnership with our colleagues in the NI Executive Office, the Department of Health and agencies across the public sector, including our outstanding health service workers to jointly fight the spread of the virus. We cannot do this unless the public adhere to the new measures, therefore I am calling on everyone in Northern Ireland to work with us, use your common sense and only leave your house if absolutely necessary.
“Finally, stay safe, and take personal responsibility to protect and support those on the front line from across the public sector who are providing vital services at this time of crisis.”