Lockdown rules must be clear so public can obey them – leader comment

Police and public alike must be left in no doubt about what is allowed and what is not under the coronavirus lockdown.
Nicola Sturgeon has warned it is still too early to lift the lockdown restrictions (Picture: Scottish Government/AFP via Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon has warned it is still too early to lift the lockdown restrictions (Picture: Scottish Government/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon has warned it is still too early to lift the lockdown restrictions (Picture: Scottish Government/AFP via Getty Images)

Police have a difficult job to do in enforcing the lockdown, but do it they must. And, as law-abiding members of the public, we have a duty to respect what we are being told by an officer of the law. The ultimate aim, after all, is to save lives by stopping the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

So it is disappointing that police have had to issue more than 500 fixed penalty notices in Scotland to people who have been flouting the restrictions.

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However, as we have noted before, the rules need to be crystal clear for all concerned – both for officers on the streets, doing their best to apply them, and for the public.

So reports of officers threatening to look through people’s shopping to see if they were buying items deemed ‘unessential’ or demanding that people not use their own front gardens are concerning.

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Downing Street moved to reassure the public that they are allowed to buy whatever they like from shops that have been exempted from the closure order and that families can get some fresh air in their gardens, front or back.

But our political leaders and senior officers need to get a grip on such mistakes because if police over-reach then the national mood could start to shift. Policing in Britain has always been based on the idea of consent and for good reason – if most people sign up to the rules, they are much easier to maintain. The 58 times that officers had to use “reasonable force” to make sure people complied are 58 times too many, but this is a problem that will only get worse if people start to think the police are making up rules as they go along.

And while individual officers may be partly to blame, it is for their commanders and, ultimately, the politicians to make sure this impression is not allowed to form in the minds of people who are perhaps starting the chafe under the strictures of the lockdown.

Anyone in this situation should consider the possible penalties of ignoring them. Repeat offenders can face fines of nearly £1,000. With the economic damage from this crisis likely to be severe, few of us can afford to lose so much money. And if that’s not a big enough deterrent, Nicola Sturgeon warned there was a danger the virus could “spread out of control, potentially very quickly”, adding “we know that would cost more lives”. The authorities must make sure the rules are clear and we the public must obey them.

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