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Covid 19 and Business Closure – Legal Obligations

At 2 pm on Saturday 21 March 2020, a law came into force which forced the closure of some businesses.

This law was enacted by virtue of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020 (and mirror regulations that apply in Wales). The statutory instrument was made in exercise of the powers conferred by sections 45C(1), (3)(c), (4)(d), 45F(2) and 45P of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

Which businesses must close?

Schedule 1 of the regulations state that the following businesses must close:

  1. Restaurants, including restaurants and dining rooms in hotels or members clubs.
  1. Cafes, including workplace canteens, but not including—
  • cafes or canteens at a hospital, care home or school;
  • canteens at a prison or an establishment intended for use for naval, military or air force purposes or for the purposes of the Department of the Secretary of State responsible for defence;

(c) services providing food or drink to the homeless.

  1. Bars, including bars in hotels or members’ clubs.
  2. Public houses.
  3. Cinemas.
  4. Theatres.
  5. Nightclubs.
  6. Bingo halls.
  7. Concert halls.
  8. Museums and galleries.
  9. Casinos.
  10. Betting shops.
  11. Spas.
  12. Massage parlours.
  13. Indoor skating rinks.
  14. Indoor fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools or other indoor leisure centres.

Other business types will likely be added to this list if the government adopts more stringent lockdown measures.

The full and most up to date list (as of the 24.3.20) is below along with some further useful information to help you manage through this difficult time: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874732/230320_-_Revised_guidance_note_-_finalVF.pdf

What is the penalty if businesses defy the law?

An unlimited fine can be imposed on the business and any officer of the company who has consented or connived etc. so keeping the business open (regulation 3).

There are, however, other powers available to local authorities who are in charge of policing compliance with these regulations.

Businesses that breach them will be subject to prohibition notices, and potentially unlimited fines. As a further measure, and if needed, businesses that fail to comply could also face the loss of their alcohol license. More draconian powers are also available under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, and further powers will soon be law when the Coronavirus Bill becomes law.

In some cases, injunctive relief may be granted, the breach of which could be punished by up to 2 years imprisonment.

There are also reputational issues that need to be considered.

We can advise on all aspects of criminal and regulatory law, if any business is uncertain as to its legal obligations during this worrying time, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

How can we help?

If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with us on 0161 872 9999 or [email protected] and let us help. We can advise on a plea, defences and potential sentences in a wide range of circumstances.

Our offices will remain open during these difficult times and we will be responding to the needs of our clients so far as we are required to attend court or police stations or to give advice.

We do however, ask that clients do not turn up at the offices and instead use the phone or email to make contact. We will be answering the phones and replying to emails in the normal efficient manner our clients are used to.

We know how uncertain a time this is for all of our clients and we want to be able to provide the help and support needed. Therefore we are making some changes to the way we work and avoiding any face to face contact where possible since this allows us to try to remain well for the benefit of our clients who need us most.