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Why the police got it so wrong on enforcing COVID19 social distancing rules

Summary:
Too late now, but I think I understand why ministers and the police got into such trouble about social distancing.Police, as you recall, hassled people sunbathing in the park, rebuked a man for sitting in his own front garden, and lectured us not to buy ‘non-essential’ items — whatever that means.Meanwhile the Health Secretary, to say exactly how long people could drive in order to take exercise, bizarrely suggested an arbitrary ‘five minutes’.What’s happened is that over the last 40 years, the British legal system has been overlaid with Continental law. Here, the test of an action was whether or not it was ‘reasonable’. The law accepted that life was complex, and left judges to decide each specific case. The Continental tradition, by contrast, specifies precise rules that apply in all

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Too late now, but I think I understand why ministers and the police got into such trouble about social distancing.

Police, as you recall, hassled people sunbathing in the park, rebuked a man for sitting in his own front garden, and lectured us not to buy ‘non-essential’ items — whatever that means.

Meanwhile the Health Secretary, to say exactly how long people could drive in order to take exercise, bizarrely suggested an arbitrary ‘five minutes’.

What’s happened is that over the last 40 years, the British legal system has been overlaid with Continental law. 

Here, the test of an action was whether or not it was ‘reasonable’. The law accepted that life was complex, and left judges to decide each specific case. 

The Continental tradition, by contrast, specifies precise rules that apply in all cases.

Hence those journalists pressing ministers to say exactly what the rules are, ministers struggling to make up new rules on the hoof, and police enforcing things to the letter, not the spirit.

While the Great British public just wants to do what is reasonable

Let’s remember that as we unwind the lockdown. Don’t smother businesses with detailed opening rules. Just set the goals and leave people to do what is reasonable in their own unique circumstances. 

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Dr. Eamonn Butler
Eamonn Butler is Director of the Adam Smith Institute, rated one of the world’s leading policy think-tanks. He has degrees in economics, philosophy and psychology, gaining a PhD from the University of St Andrews in 1978.

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