Going to work?

Update: Fixed on 13th May

Drafting legislation is obviously a complex issue, and needs a lot of work.

As we have seen, the regulations for COVID-19 are badly drafted, with many things people consider "loopholes". The original legislation was, after all, done in a rush.

Thankfully the civil servants have has several weeks now to carefully draft some amendments to fix some of the issues, so these should be really good now, obviously.

Some issues:-
  • Previously you could leave home for one reason but then did not have to have a reason for being "outside". I.e. you could leave for exercise and then decide to go and have a picnic. As long as not a gathering of more than 2 people not from the same household in a public place, that was legal, even if the police said it was not and fined people.
  • Previously if you have a party at your home with lots of friends, it was clearly a gathering, but not in a public place, so you (at home) were not breaking the law. Any of your friends that left where they live with reasonable excuse and then decided to come to your party would also not be breaking the law. Even so, police would break up parties and fine people.
  • Previously if you left home for exercise, went to the park, you could sit on the bench for a while, even have lunch. What mattered is why you left home.
The changes at 11am today address some of these, and are listed here.

They fixed interesting things like in paragraph (1)(b), for “over the age of 18” substitute “aged 18 or over”; and in sub-paragraph (i)(iii), for “Department of Work” substitute “Department for Work”.

But one of the changes is this :-

(4) In regulation 6—
(a)in paragraph (1), after “leave” insert “or be outside of”;

This means that it now reads :-

6.—(1) During the emergency period, no person may leave or be outside of the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.
This covers a lot of previous loopholes. Now you no longer just need an excuse to leave where you live, but to be outside (yes, your garden is still counted as inside your home for this). So the picnic is not longer valid, and neither is the house party (not because a gathering, but because the people there have no reasonable excuse for being outside their own home). Sadly it may also mean the rest during a long walk is a problem. I am actually a tad surprised that "returning home" is not in itself a reasonable excuse.

However, what concerns me is that they did not update the actual list of reasonable excuses having now changed the context.

Notably the reasonable excuse: (f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;

Now, previously, it was OK to leave home to "travel for the purposes of work" (if you could not do that work at home), and, having left home with reasonable excuse, you could, well, do the work!

Yes, the list is not exhaustive, but given how the police seem happy to fine people when they were covered by the list it is tricky doing anything not on the explicit list. Arguably the specificity of the use of the word "travelling" for work in the list highlights anything other than travelling as not being "reasonable". A simple fix would be to remove the "to travel" part, so "for purposes of work" (where you can't do it from home) would be covered, including any travelling.

But the excuses don't list actually "doing work", or "being at your office", or anything that is not actually "travelling". And this reasonable excuse has to cover not just leaving your home, but being outside your home.

So now it seems they have plugged the loophole allowing a picnic, but made supermarket workers illegal sat at their tills. Indeed, if you are an MP sat in parliament right now, which of the reasonable excuses do you have for not being at home?

Really? This is the competence level of our current parliament?


  1. The list of reasonable excuses in the original SI is non-exhaustive. Work that cannot be done at home would seem a reasonable excuse even though not on the list, at least to my mind, given that it is explicitly stated the travel to work that cannot be done at home is a reasonable excuse.

    1. I agree it is non-exhaustive, but this is where I would need an expert on drafting to be honest. I would expect the opposite to you - i.e. if the examples have unnecessary specificity, i.e. "to travel for the purpose of work" rather than "for the purpose of work", it would read to me as having meaning and hence imply that the more general case would not make an example and hence not be a "reasonable excuse". I also worry about anyone extending the list with what they think may be "reasonable" when ultimately it comes down to a court, or in practice, a policeman to decide - and the track record of the police on actually following the rules when things are in the list is pretty bad.

  2. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have had a field day with all of this. Perhaps he is...


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