Police powers under Welsh COVID Regulations
18 January 2022
The pandemic has had a knock-on effect of increasing awareness of devolution. The governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been responsible for navigating the pandemic in their own countries, and the approaches taken have sometimes significantly diverged. With the COVID Regulations affecting the essentials of our daily lives, public attention across the UK has been drawn to the powers of devolved governments to govern differently from Westminster.
One surprising difference between the Welsh and UK Governments – and one that has evaded much public scrutiny – is that the Welsh Regulations created a new power of entry which allows police officers to enter people’s homes in certain circumstances to investigate breaches of the COVID Regulations. No such power has ever been included in the English Regulations, and the power of English police officers to enter people’s homes is more restricted, governed by the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (‘PACE’) and the common law rules for dealing with breaches of the peace.
The practical issues around the Welsh police power of entry to people’s homes have fallen into the background in recent months, because it mainly arises when there is or has been a suspected unlawful gathering in someone’s home. (Although on 26 December 2021, a new restriction was introduced banning gatherings of more than 30 in homes.) With restrictions hopefully easing again, reflecting on this regulation raises broader questions about human rights and legal scrutiny in Wales.
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